Category Archives: 2010s

Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)

*. If not rated by fans, or just anyone on the Internet who likes to make lists, as the worst film of the Saw franchise, The Final Chapter usually scores near the bottom of the bloody pile. That’s where I’d put it too. A lousy note to go out on, if “going out” was ever their intention.
*. Which I don’t think it really was. On the writers’ commentary track they start off with a joke about this being “the so-called Final Chapter,” but conclude by saying that “within this thread this is the last one.” You could argue either way, but seeing as Tobin Bell was going to be back in Jigsaw, Hoffman’s fate is, again, left hanging, and even Bobby, the protagonist here, is presumably still alive, they weren’t even closing the circle.
*. Meanwhile, Cary Elwes came back . . . for this? Seeing as he’d stayed out of all the previous sequels because of a lawsuit over his salary for Saw I hope he got paid this time.
*. The first note I made to myself was that this is a movie that looks like it was made on the cheap. Oddly enough, it was the most expensive film in the franchise with a $27 million budget. Alas, most of that money was eaten up by the fact that it was shot in 3D. Which is money wasted in my book, as I was watching it in 2D at home.
*. The opening kill was actually something a bit new (if even more improbable than usual), being a display on a concourse outside Roy Thomson Hall, in front of the most Toronto-esque crowd of extras I’ve ever seen. I take it the location and installation are meant as a finger to the art house-crowd, and it actually is a bit witty. But the victims don’t seem like the kind of people Jigsaw would be interested in (and I should add that these two are, once you straighten out the jumbled timelines, Jigsaw’s victims).
*. “There’s a new game going on,” one of the useless police figures informs Jill at one point. “Does that surprise you?” “No.” Should it? The story isn’t worth going into. Hoffman, as you may have guessed, survived the end of the previous film and is back to take his vengeance on Jill Tuck. As noted, Dr. Gordon is back as well. And brooding behind it all is the malevolent spirit of John (or Jon, he doesn’t care which) Kramer, who is looking to expose a pseudo-Jigsaw survivor.
*. I don’t think the plot is as cleverly constructed as in previous outings. Instead of twists they just decided to up the body count (27, a record for the franchise) and the gore (though much of this was, in the writers’ words, the “inevitable side effect of having to jam two stories into one”). There’s lots of splatter, if that’s your thing. We even (finally!) get to see the Reverse Bear Trap thingy, the signature device of the franchise, do the job it was designed to do. Think of one of Gallagher’s smashed watermelons.
*. The gags or games are gruesome enough, but that’s all that can be said for them. They’re not suspenseful and don’t involve any sort of interesting puzzle-solving. Instead they seem more like a gauntlet of CrossFit stations. The ending is particularly downbeat, as the most horrific death is visited upon someone who is innocent (indeed an “absolute innocent” according to the screenwriters), while her husband is unconvincingly undone trying to save her by going full Man Called Horse.
*. But then, perhaps because of the high body count, perhaps because of Hoffman’s evil nature, there’s a full slaughter of the innocents going on here. Gibson, to take another example, seems downright decent. It’s enough to make you pine for the more innocent days of the franchise, when the killing at least had some sort of point to it.
*. The DVD comes with two full-length commentaries, one with the producers and the other with the writers. You’ll also find a lot written about it online. This is one of the products of superfan culture in our time. So much critical attention is directed at material that I wouldn’t have thought able to sustain it (which is leaving aside the question of it being worthy of such attention in the first place). This, in turn, has become one of the more time-consuming aspects of making these notes, since I tend to feel obliged to listen to commentaries and review some other sources. But I guess it was interesting to know that the pig masks really were taken from Motel Hell.
*. Actually, the producers’ commentary also turned up another interesting tidbit. Indeed, it was something that even surprised them. The skinhead who gets killed in the garage game is played by Chester Bennington, a popular singer (now deceased). Apparently they had to redraw his tattoos because the tattooist who did his ink had copyright on them and the studio couldn’t show them. Colour me amazed. I don’t know how that would stand up in court.
*. Wesley Morris: “This series never cared for filmmaking. It never cared for human life. Now it doesn’t even care for its audience or itself, scraping together the gist of the other movies, simply in order to have something to sell for Halloween.” Nicely expressed, but can we be that cynical? I do get the sense that people were trying here. This is not a good movie, but the fact that they managed to keep this series going through seven movies and maintain some interest in its mythology is to their credit.
*. Some of the elements have promise, but none of it works. Maybe it’s the direction. Maybe it’s Sean Patrick Flanery as the lead contestant in Jigsaw’s game. He seemed to be lacking the requisite passion (in the Biblical sense). Maybe it’s the way what was originally planned as a two-part finale had to be collapsed into a single film after the box office disappointment of the previous entry. Maybe it’s the 3D. Maybe it’s all of the above. I didn’t like it, and would have preferred not finding out what happened to Dr. Gordon. I’m still a bit surprised fans didn’t go for it, but for all the reasons given I think they must have felt let down.

 

The Happytime Murders (2018)

*. The Happytime Murders is a bad movie. Not so bad it’s good, though it does tend in that direction, but so bad it makes you wonder how it ever happened.
*. The idea itself wasn’t new. It was described accurately upon its release as Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets Meet the Feebles. But without the magic of the former or shock value of the latter.
*. It’s a comedy with one joke, which is puppets engaged in “adult” behaviour. Meaning having sex, doing drugs, and swearing a lot. I say this is the joke, but it isn’t funny. Crude, but not funny. It’s also a bit uncomfortable. There’s something not just juvenile but angry and nasty about the degrading of the puppets here. Since it was directed by Brian Henson (son of Jim Henson, creator of the muppets) it’s hard not to imagine some kind of acting out. But it ends up just awkward.
*. Why isn’t it funny? Some possibilities: (1) it’s trying too hard; (2) the timing is all wrong, given the awkward way the puppets move; (3) the fact that the puppet faces can’t show any expression, making them as funny as zombies or people wearing masks; (4) the really boring voice of the main puppet character, Detective Phil Phillips, played by long-time muppet performer Bill Barretta.
*. The plot isn’t very interesting, being concerned with the murder of the cast of a puppet television show called The Happytime Gang. It’s the basic noir set-up, with Phillips and his partner (Melissa McCarthy) hunting down leads through the sleazy highs and lows of L.A. What’s really going on is perfectly obvious from the opening minutes because it’s the only explanation we’re left with.
*. McCarthy does everything she can to make this shit work, and her delivery of one line was the only smile the film got out of me. As I say, it’s a movie you watch wondering how it got made. How did they let things go so far down this road without realizing how poor the material was and how none of it was working? There seems to have been some fighting in post-production over putting together a satisfactory cut so maybe some of the blame has to go there. But still you have to ask: What were they thinking?

Lizzie (2018)

*. Because the imagination tends to dwell on unsolved crimes, the axe murders of Mr. and Mrs. Borden in 1892 have stayed with us, and indeed grown over the years into a kind of folk tale that much can be projected on. I think it’s long been the majority (but not universal) opinion that young Lizzie Borden did the ghastly deed. Her reasons why, if she had reasons, have, however, provided much ground for conjecture in various re-enactments.
*. To mention just some pertinent highlights. The 1975 TV-movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden had Lizzie (Elizabeth Montgomery) committing the murders (or at least imagining herself committing the murders) in the nude, then washing the blood off so that she didn’t get any on her clothes. Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock’s Blood Relations premiered in 1980, casting culpability for the Borden killings on society at large, with the audience being a stand-in. The play also suggested that Lizzie was a lesbian. In 1984 Ed McBain’s novel Lizzie explicitly had it that Lizzie, the killer, was in a lesbian relationship with the maid Bridget.
*. I bring up all this background just to show that this Lizzie (which includes all of the elements just mentioned) wasn’t breaking any new ground in 2018. Far from it. Yes, you can see it as a movie of the #MeToo era, with Mr. Borden being a sexual predator getting his comeuppance, but that’s hardly a fresh take on the case. Nothing here is.
*. This leaves us with the presentation. I wasn’t that impressed. It’s a low-budget production and looks it, mostly confined to a few interior sets. The direction is not inspiring. The only nod toward building suspense is to throw in some creepy and discordant music.
*. Chloë Sevigny, for whom this was a pet project, is very good as Lizzie. Kristen Stewart has an indifferent Irish accent. The rest of the cast don’t stand out. The script never fully comes to a point. Bridget asks why Lizzie was doing this to help her, and I guess this is what the movie wants us to consider as the big question. But isn’t it obvious? Because if it isn’t obvious — that Lizzie has genuine affection for Bridget — then I can’t think of what sort of conclusion I’m supposed to be drawing.
*. I wish I could say I liked this more, but there was none of the style or atmosphere it needed to make it work and in the end I found it pretty dull.

Geostorm (2017)

*. Geostorm. Even the name sounds like a video game. Though actually it was also the name of a car manufactured by Isuzu in the early 1990s (technically, the Geo Storm).
*. The movie Geostorm crashed at the box office and met dreadful reviews, most of which complained of the unoriginal and stupid plot. Mark Kermode’s rant, wherein he described it as “the stupidest film I’ve ever seen,” stood out: “It takes stupid to a whole new level. I’m not exaggerating. You can feel any sense of intelligence you have just sort of seeping out of your ears.”
*. This is good, but Kermode softens things a bit by adding: “I could feel myself getting stupider, I could actually feel myself getting dumber as I watched the film, and the dumber I got the more I started to enjoy it.” This was not my experience. I wanted it to end half an hour before it did I was so sick and tired of it.
*. Certainly Geostorm is stupid. But compared to what? All of these CGI spectacle films are stupid. They’re popcorn movies aimed at audiences with no attention span and the intelligence of a third-grader. Around the same time as I saw Geostorm I watched Rampage, the giant ape movie starring Dwayne Johnson. Was Geostorm as stupid as that?
*. So the characters spout a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo and we see technology that has instantaneous effect on extreme weather events. And when I say “extreme” I mean flash-frozen tropics, tidal waves in the desert, and lightning bolts that turn entire stadiums into giant fireballs. That extreme.
*. In at least one way, however, it’s not just all harmless bullshit. As I mentioned in my notes on the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Hollywood has been nervous about dealing with the topic of global climate change. Here it’s taken as a given, but technology has come to the rescue, offering up a quick, painless fix to all our problems. The whole world has come together to get this right (with the U.S. and China leading the way). This really is wishful thinking.
*. Aside from that, it’s all just an excuse to see cities being destroyed by CGI. Which, as I’ve said before, is one of the only things CGI does really well (the others being giant monsters and clashing armies). But none of this was new in 2017. We’ve seen all of these effects before. The people being frozen, the skyscrapers toppling. So I never started to enjoy it. I was bored.

The Seagull (2018)

*. Anton Chekhov called The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard comedies. What he meant by this has been debated ever since. Especially given that The Seagull seems a morally earnest play with a decidedly downbeat ending.
*. Still, some people see the use of “comedy” as Dantean, meaning they find a positive, redemptive message in Nina’s speech at the end. I don’t. She just seems to have given up on any youthful dreams and accepted her rather miserable lot, coming to see life no longer as striving for achieving much of anything but only as a vale of sorrows to be endured.
*. Another reading is that the nature of the action is meant to be comic in a Shakespearean sense. A tale of lovers in the forest overcoming various obstacles. But here the obstacles aren’t overcome. Or is it a satire of the Russian theatre at the time? This I can see a bit of, but as satire goes it seems indifferently directed at any particular target and Chekov is too humane a playwright to want us to laugh in a harsh way at any of these people. They can be silly, but they’re all unhappy in one way or another.

*. All of which is just to say that while this may feel like a heavy adaptation of the play, I think it’s quite faithful. I find it a play filled with sadness. Konstantin is so idealistic, and so second-rate. Nina is a budding narcissist, as she probably should be (it’s served Irina well in her career), but she’s second-rate too. Boris may have some talent, but he’s jaded and a kept man. He’s second-rate too, as a person.
*. I see it as a tragedy of the second rate. This crowd can fool themselves with being important while at the cottage, but one gets the feeling they’re not such big fish in Moscow. Maybe Irina is a minor celebrity. Boris probably isn’t as big a deal as Nina imagines him to be. But everyone thinks they’re a star. Or at least that they could be a star. Even the schoolteacher thinks a play about a schoolteacher would be a winner.
*. It’s an ensemble cast, which works well with this theme as there aren’t any stars aside from Annette Bening, who is playing a star. Saoirise Ronan is believable as being young and dreaming for all the wrong things in life. Corey Stoll has just enough of the heel about him. But Elisabeth Moss comes closest to stealing the show as the bitter Masha. Bitter and loving it, in that self-destructive way such people have. Would she have been happy with Konstantin? Not a chance.

*. It all looks nice, and a resort in the Hudson Valley is probably as close an analog to a pre-revolutionary Russian estate as you can expect. There are also a few nice gestures in making this a movie and not just a staged play. I like the outing on the rowboat with Boris and Nina, and his face rocking closer to hers in what seems an imitation of coitus that never quite consummates in a kiss. Meanwhile, Irina and Konstantin observe from a distance, deciding on their own plans of action.
*. But the film needed more of this. It’s an understated production of a play that almost makes a fetish of understatement. The offstage (offscreen) suicide is just the climax of this restraint. There’s a big name-calling scene between Irina and Konstantin that’s been added (at least I don’t recall it from the play) and while it doesn’t seem entirely out of place I don’t think it quite works. It seems too modern, and for all I recognize in Chekov I keep wondering if he’s really our contemporary. As types these people still exist, but as individuals? The world has changed too much.

The Heretics (2017)

*. The director of The Heretics, Chad Archibald, hails from Guelph, Ontario, which is where a lot of this movie was shot (the other location was Erin, which is a small town just outside of Guelph). Since Guelph is my hometown I really feel like I should be giving this one a critical discount.
*. But the thing is, I didn’t recognize any of the locations and I only found out that it had been shot in Guelph by listening to the commentary. Actually, most of was filmed in the woods outside Guelph. The one Guelph landmark that’s used is our covered bridge, which Archibald says looks like the inside of a spaceship. I thought it looked like a bus terminal.
*. As for the movie, it’s a quick indie horror flick. In order for these to really stand out they usually need either a great original script or some special directorial vision. Well, The Heretics isn’t very original or special, but it’s not bad. We begin with the heroine waking up in bed screaming after a quick dream sequence and before too long we’re off to a cabin in the woods. The story involves a bunch of devil-worshippers who are using the heroine to bring forth an ancient demon. This is all pretty standard stuff.
*. Again we have the idea that God is dead but devils are very much a real presence in the world. It’s noteworth that both Gloria and Joan work at a church, but the building is only used as a community drop-in centre. At one point Thomas tells us about how he lost his faith in the cult because there is no God and he doesn’t believe in demons. But while he’s clearly right that there’s no God, there are demons. Which makes you wonder to what extent the cultists can be considered heretics. Or if the tag line “Pray they don’t come for you” makes any sense. What use would prayer be?
*. It’s not that the script is terrible so much as there’s just not enough of it. There’s the one twist — a good one which took me by surprise, and introduced the best part of the movie — but that’s it. The film is just under 90 minutes but I came away thinking it could have been done in half that length, or in an hour at the most. Once you know where everything is going it plays out exactly how you’d expect, even down to the way they tug the rug out at the end. Which you knew was coming.
*. I wasn’t as thrilled by The Heretics as I’ve been by other indie Canadian horror movies I’ve seen recently. Titles I enjoyed more include Afflicted, The Void, and Black Mountain Side. But Nina Kiri and Jorja Cadence are both quite good here (the latter in particular has a really dangerous quality), and Kiri’s transformation is well handled. Also, even though it’s a predictable story it’s never really dull. I just didn’t think there was anything special enough about it to take it to another level.

Crawl (2019)

*. By the time I got around to watching this one I’d forgotten that it had been directed by Alexandre Aja. Finding out made me smile. I didn’t think that much of The Other Side of the Door but I liked High Tension (Switchblade Romance) and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. I think Aja is a director who knows his stuff, at least if you define his stuff as being pulp horror.
*. That’s a good thing because Crawl doesn’t have much else going for it. To make the obvious comparison, this is Sharknado with alligators. It’s not as absurd, but it’s basically the same premise. A hurricane hits Florida and the ‘gators come with it, besieging a girl and her dad in the basement of their house. They do the usual family-bonding-in-a-crisis thing (which played a big part in Sharknado too). There are a couple of failed rescues, but in the end they manage to outsmart and outfight the monsters, proving themselves to be the true apex predators.
*. Production values are better than for Sharknado, which means the CGI alligators look better than the CGI sharks in that movie. Though like all such movies from Jaws onward the creatures are much, much larger than they would be in real life. This made me wonder if maybe normal-size alligators might have actually been scarier. Perhaps. But giant alligators are an easier sell.
*. It’s a well executed B-picture. There are a few suspenseful scenes, one good jump scare, and a plot that takes the characters out of one jam straight into another, mercifully sparing us too much of the dreadful father-daughter bonding stuff. Kaya Scodelario is adequate as the gritty and resourceful hero. Being stuck in a basement for so long is no fun, but I think Aja makes good use of the space. Even the improbabilities aren’t too much of a stretch. No, Haley couldn’t really outswim an alligator, but she has a head start. Of course a lot of the story is ridiculous, but not so ridiculous that you give up on it.
*. The thing about a movie like this is you can only compare it to its peers, and these are dismal. If not Sharknado then perhaps the 47 Meters Down movies. I think Crawl is a better movie than anything else I can fairly compare it to, but it is still almost entirely without substance or originality. I suspect those are qualities that its intended audience won’t be looking for though.

The Double (2013)

*. The obvious place to start is to say that this is a film based on the Dostoyevsky novella The Double, and then to say that it is isn’t, really.
*. It is a movie about a double or doppelgänger and shares a couple of minor plot points with Dostoyevsky’s tale, but that’s about it. Meanwhile, the divergences are pretty big. Dostoyevsky’s Golyadkin doesn’t have a girlfriend, for example, or a mother that we meet. He also doesn’t attempt suicide. What he has instead of all this is a shrink, a character that’s missing here.
*. Visually, it’s less like anything you imagined Dostoyevsky would look like and more like another vision of Kafka by way of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It looks great — the colour and lighting in particular achieves a kind of chiaroscuro reminiscent of Caravaggio’s tenebrism — but it isn’t terribly original in terms of the set design and decoration. We’ve been here before.

*. In terms of plot the main change is the introduction of an element of sexual humiliation. James Simon is the alpha-male stud that the milksop Simon James dreams of becoming. This is more The Nutty Professor or Mad Men territory than The Double (James Simon is a kind of Don Draper, usurping an identity not his own). Dostoyevsky’s story was more about class humiliation than sexual one-upmanship, and the change is interesting, since class is an increasingly important issue in contemporary society and sex (I think) less so.
*. But then, it’s not a movie that seems interested in commenting on the way we live now. It intentionally sets itself in a time and place that looks a bit like Soviet-era Eastern Europe, where the culture (music, TV shows) and technology seem part of a civilization that was never quite our own. I don’t know if this dilutes its message or makes it stronger.
*. I think Ty Burr, writing in the Boston Globe, had something very interesting to say in this regard: “It’s a noble try, but the problem is that Ayoade’s modern hell feels so. . . 20th century. The themes and visual ideas that sustain the Kafka/Orwell/Gilliam dystopian vision — the nightmare bureaucracies that imprison us — have become outdated in a world where we’re liberated yet enslaved by our consumer technology, personally empowered for maximum self-expression yet, more than ever, tiny widgets at the mercy of forces that watch us and re-sell us. The Double is a striking piece of work, but it’s nostalgic for a kind of paranoia that may no longer exist. There are different things to frighten us now. Maybe Richard Ayoade should start making movies about them.”

*. And yet director Richard Ayoade wasn’t going for an anti-authoritarian message. The Colonel (a cameo James Fox) even seems like a decent enough guy in the end and not the leader of a ruthless corporatist/totalitarian state. In an interview included with the DVD Ayoade explains that the particular vision of hell being described here consists of the world’s simple indifference to Simon’s suffering. Or really just indifference to Simon period. I would, however, argue that this is a very twentieth-century anxiety as well, albeit perhaps magnified in our own time.
*. Would it have been a more effective film if they’d played it straight, whatever playing such a story straight might mean? I don’t know. I guess it’s meant to be a nightmare and it does a good job with that. Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska both look odd enough to belong in such a strange, old-fashioned world, even if their love story is corny and its resolution too tidy. Their weirdness does make it all seem less dangerous though.

Left Behind (2014)

*. I wonder what the target audience for this movie was. I haven’t read any of the series of bestselling Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and the only person I know who has is someone who has never been inside a church in her life. She just liked the story. So it’s not like they’re only preaching to the choir.
*. At the same time, I don’t think these books are meant to proselytize. There’s certainly no attempt in this movie to make a case for Christianity, premillenialist or otherwise. I’m not sure the Bible is even mentioned, much less quoted from. Mrs. Steele has found Jesus (just in time!), but she never gets a chance to discuss religion with her daughter Chloe. She’s too busy in the kitchen, or gardening. But then, what would be the point of having that little talk? You’re either one of the chosen or you’re not.
*. Nor is there any explanation of how the Rapture operates, aside from the fact that babies and children are all swept up. Which may sound fair to a layperson but which I don’t think is correct theologically. As Gary Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, put it: “The film’s religious elements are shoehorned in and woefully tossed off. Worse, it’s hard to fathom where director Vic Armstrong and screenwriters Paul Lalonde and John Patus stand — if anywhere — on spiritual matters.”
*. The only point I think worth making here is that, while millions of Americans do believe in the Rapture, it’s a fringe belief, of fairly recent origin and relying on some pretty free interpretation of scripture. So when Captain Rayford Steele (he’s the hero, in case you couldn’t tell from the name) says that his wife knew in advance how this was all going to go down, right to the last detail, you have to wonder where she got the news. Maybe she read the novel.
*. Immediately when this film came out it was heralded not just as one of the worst movies of the year but possibly one of the worst of all time. I don’t know if I’d go that far. It’s bad, but I have to confess I didn’t mind it. I didn’t like it enough to ever want to sit through it again, but it has an innocent, goofy charm.
*. It’s primarily the innocence of a Hallmark production. There’s no violence or gore. The worst thing that happens to Chloe is that she has her shoulder bag snatched by a guy on a motorbike. There’s no bad language, despite the desperate situation the left behind find themselves in. And there aren’t any really bad people left behind either. Martin Klebba is probably the closest thing. The Muslim gentleman on the plane is a decent guy. Too bad he was worshipping the wrong deity. I thought the sexy stewardess (Nicky Whelan) was going to be a villain, a homewrecking Jezebel in a tight skirt and even tighter blouse, but it turns out she hasn’t done the dirty deed with Rayford yet and she didn’t even know he was married! I guess slipping your wedding ring off really does work some of the time. Or else she just hasn’t figured out the Internet yet.
*. Even the guy robbing the store with a shotgun lets Chloe Steele go on her way. The left behind aren’t evil. In fact, they still want to get in good with the Big Guy by saying prayers as their plane is going down. This was the one scene where I broke out laughing. You missed the bus guys!
*. How can you hate a movie so good-natured about the end of the world? Yes, it’s low budget and surprisingly low key. Nicolas Cage just shows up to get paid (apparently $3 million for ten days work). He sleepwalks through the entire film. And sure, I prefer my apocalypses with zombies. But you just have to go along with all the general goofiness. It may not be a much better movie than Battlefield Earth, which did come to mind, but it’s more congenial. Actually, being left behind seems like a pretty good deal. Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place with less people in it? And New York City looking as bright and shiny as Louisiana?
*. Things might have gotten darker during the time of tribulations, or whatever name it goes by, but there was to be no sequel. Given that this was actually the second kick at the can for the series and it failed utterly I suspect it will truly be the end of the line, at least for a while. And that goes for everyone.

Raw (2016)

*. Oh the curse of heightened expectations. When they are not met, do we blame the film or the hype?
*. But for the hype I might not have seen Raw. The glowing reviews, however, sucked me in. Mark Kermode called it the best film of 2017 and even placed it fifth on his list of his ten favourite films from the last ten years. That’s high praise from a guy who sees a lot of movies, and he wasn’t alone in dishing it out.
*. Such praise, however, is a double-edge sword. Because, while I thought Raw was a nice little movie, I didn’t think it was anything special. So instead of enjoying it I felt let down. But does that mean the critics were wrong?
*. In his initial review Kermode spoke of how Raw “manages to take an intimate tale of an identity crisis and somehow blend it with Cronenbergian body horror and humour and heartbreak.” I think this is fair, but is it enough to make Raw a great movie? Kermode mentions how it draws not just on Cronenberg but Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day (2001) and Jorge Grau’s We Are What We Are (2010; remade in 2013), though I think the more obvious influence was Ginger Snaps (2000). The two sisters in a coming-of-age tale mixing budding female sexuality with horror elements make Raw almost a replay of that film.
*. The coming-of-age angle is, I think, what the movie is about. It’s not really a horror film, and reports of people fainting at its premiere, and discussion of it as being an example of the new French Extreme are hard for me to credit. I don’t think the intent was to shock. But I also don’t see it as having much to say about the virtues of vegetarianism, or as a critique of veterinary medicine. I suppose it could be taken as saying something against freshmen hazing rituals, but I found the students here to be too young and imbecilic to be taken seriously.
*. Which leaves us with sex. It’s hard for me to shake the feeling that but for the feminist slant to the film it wouldn’t have received so much attention. It struck a chord with its message of dangerous female sexuality and empowerment. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but as I say, it’s nothing new. Even before Ginger Snaps (which had been nearly twenty years earlier) a film like The Hunger, or before that Daughters of Darkness, had played on the motif of the young woman being erotically inducted into the ways of the predatory female lifestyle.
*. First-time writer-director Julia Ducournau does a good job, but again I didn’t feel there was anything special going on. There are a number of long shots that I found self-consciously arty and inexpressive. The tease scene of Justine rolling around in bed with the shocking reveal of her rash was clever, but it’s nothing Eli Roth hadn’t already done. And I don’t think Cabin Fever made many “Year’s Best” lists.
*. The cultural references have been updated. Justine listens to raunchy rap on her iPod, gets a Brazilian wax from her sister (with disastrous consequences), and is shamed on social media. All very relevant, but, again, does it make Raw a great movie?
*. Justine’s dad is Laurent Lucas from In My Skin, Calvaire, and Alleluia, so you know something’s not on the level. By the time you’ve twigged to the fact that the penchant for cannibalism is some kind of genetic disposition you can guess the macabre joke at the end, but nevertheless it works pretty well. Still, it’s just a joke.
*. I definitely recommend it. Parts of it struck me as overdone (the score, for example), or utterly nonsensical (the technique the girls use to get victims), but the cast plays well and it has an interesting look. Just forget about the hype and enjoy a decent little horror movie.