Category Archives: 2010s

97% (2013)

*. We’ve all seen the zombies among us, heads bent over their iPhones, buds nestled in their ears, oblivious to the world around them. Plugged in to social media they seem to live profoundly anti-social lives, not just unconnected but worlds apart from the person sitting next to them on the subway.
*. And yet we still believe, or at least some of us still believe, in the Internet as being a great bonding agent, a technology that brings us all together in virtual networks of friends or “friends.” Why, with the right app it can even pick a mate for us! Algorithms do this kind of thing better, you know.
*. It’s easy to make fun of all this, but for whatever reason a lot of us do seem to have bought into it. In 97% we have a short film that follows the quest of one “Lovely Bertje82” (his digital handle) as he is informed while on the subway that a 97% love match is within 25 meters of his present location. The hunt is on!
*. Since this is a short, less than ten minutes long, I don’t think I need to give a spoiler alert. (But in case you need one, consider yourself warned.) The upshot is that Bert is so enthralled by playing the game on his cellphone that he fails to connect with the woman sitting right in front of him. This is actually presented in a beautifully artful way, as the “Reflection Girl” (as she is billed in the credits) and Bert are shown looking at each other indirectly, as reflections in a subway window that acts as yet another screen for their romance to blossom on.
*. But alas, Reflection Girl is not The One. At least not The One picked out for Bert by the matchfinder app. So he loses her and goes off to chase yet another dream, another virtual prize.
*. This gives the film a bite in the end as we realize that Bert really is quite shallow, hunting after a girlfriend like a kid chasing cartoon monsters on Pokémon Go.
*. Well, they do say that the chase is the fun part of falling in love. The thrill of the hunt and all that. But how depressing is such programmed behaviour? Where is Bert’s agency? He’s little more than a puppet attached to satellite strings. Clearly on the subway of life we are all just passengers and tech is in the driver’s seat. So much for romantic traffic. Now I feel sentimental for The Spoons.

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

*. I think I should begin by saying that I watched this movie on a streaming service, not on DVD. Which means I haven’t heard the director’s commentary, so some of these notes may be more speculative than usual.
*. I’ll begin with the matter of the title. It was originally shown at festivals, and released in the U.K., as February. That’s not very catchy, so it was quickly changed to The Blackcoat’s Daughter. This has a chillier ring to it, but I’m still not sure what it refers to. Another curious thing is that the version I saw gave the title as The Devil’s Daughter. So I guess the “Blackcoat” is the devil. But I also associate it with priests as well (the infamous “black robes”).
*. The bottom line here is that a title like The Blackcoat’s Daughter sounds good, but it’s also kind of vague. Which sort of sums up the movie as well.
*. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against vague. And I liked The Blackcoat’s Daughter. But it is one of those movies where the action is rather murky. I’ll say what I think is going on now, so consider this a spoiler warning.
*. As I see it, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is just a disturbed girl who is (a) suffering a bit of shock from the loss of her parents (which she has been alerted to in a dream) and (b) stricken with cabin fever due to being left in a religious boarding school over the winter holidays. She begins to see visions of a shadowy devil figure and receives staticky telephone calls telling her to kill. She goes on a rampage, carving up a couple of administrative nuns and another girl named Rose. Years later, she escapes from an asylum and, adopting the identity of Joan, gets a ride back to the school from Rose’s parents. A fatal bit of circumstance. She kills the parents, but in the end feels abandoned by her dark master.
*. A couple of things complicate matters. First, the story is presented on parallel tracks, moving back and forth from the events of Kat’s original outbreak and her return journey some time later. This in itself isn’t hard to figure out, but what makes things complicated is the fact that Kat is played by two different actresses (Shipka and Emma Roberts) who don’t look that much alike. So when “Joan” is revealed to be Kat you really have to do some mental adjustments to make it fit. I’ll confess that when I first saw the movie I assumed that Joan was being possessed by the same devil that had taken over Kat earlier as she got closer to the school’s grounds.
*. The other complication has to do with the nature of Kat’s hallucinations. I assumed these were imaginary, since that’s how they are represented. Nobody else sees or hears anything but Kat. I thought of the story here as being akin to the Slender Man stabbing. As far as the visions themselves go, they certainly could have come up with a scarier devil than the guy with bunny ears, but aside from that I felt this part of the story was better handled than the business of the two Kats.
*. Where The Blackcoat’s Daughter really succeeds is in creating atmosphere. This is a genuinely creepy movie, a little slow for some but I found it very suspenseful. The sound design got a lot of praise, but things like way the noise of a door opening made me jump (three times!) have to first be set up with the general handling of the film’s look and feel, its slow pans and unexpected cuts.
*. So my hat goes off to Osgood (“Oz”) Perkins for how creepy it all is, and for his brother Elvis’s score, whose forbidding gutturals fit well with the bleak depopulated landscape. The table is well set.
*. Alas, such an exquisite slow burn fizzles when it comes to actual scares. This movie is all about the anticipation of horror. When the knives come out the resulting violence and gore isn’t even startling. It just registers as a disappointment. In contrast, I love the shot where the camera turns about in the front room of the house the dead women are in, finally showing us the police coming in the back but only revealing a blood stain on the doorjamb. That’s it. Because there’s no point showing us anything more right then.
*. I wonder what the first horror movie was to make use of these body-artist contortions and movements. Perhaps the famous “spider walk” sequence that was cut from the theatrical release of The Exorcist. They’ve gone on to become very popular, especially in J-horror. I like the surprise shot here of Kat doing a back arch in bed, but at the same time I guess I’ve seen enough of these extreme yoga moves that it wasn’t as surprising as it should have been.
*. The cast (Shipka, Roberts, Lucy Boynton) is really good, but they don’t have to do much aside from observing or bearing witness in an enigmatic silence that allows for suspicious ambiguity to sneak in to their every glance and gesture. Shipka’s first scene with the priest sets the tone nicely. She’s even creepier than he is, and he’s the one in partial silhouette.
*. I’m glad the film is mostly silent, as I have to register (once again) my dismay at what’s being done to dialogue in today’s movies. Without closed-captioning I think I would have missed at least a third of the lines. Do filmmakers not even care if an audience can hear what the characters are saying? Do they think it’s not important? Or do they think it’s more realistic to have the dialogue muttered or whispered inaudibly?
*. For some reason this kind of horror film became popular around this time. A lot of people found The Blackcoat’s Daughter very similar to The Witch, and it is, but I found Black Mountain Side to be another close analog (the cabin fever, the delusions, the strange score, the even stranger-looking “devil”). These movies all tend to have a slow pace and are much quieter than the usual American horror fare. Could it be a coincidence that they were all filmed in Canada? Or that they were early work (if not the feature debuts) of their directors?
*. I don’t think The Blackcoat’s Daughter is entirely successful, but I do think it’s a very good first film. Perkins makes us imagine a bogeyman without revealing it, conjuring a sense of threat out of empty space. Not even darkness seems so dangerous as eyes looking past us to something invisible, or just over our shoulder. I’ve heard a lot of people call this film boring, but that wasn’t my response. If anything, I would have slowed it down even more, and shown even less.

Seoul Station (2016)

*. Seoul Station is billed as a prequel to Train to Busan, the Korean “zombies on a train” film. I’m not entirely sure which came first, though Train to Busan was released a few weeks earlier. In any event, I don’t see much of a connection aside from the fact that they were both directed by Sang-ho Yeon, they’re both set in Korea, and they both have zombies. Nowadays we say that such films inhabit the same cinematic “universe.”
*. The big difference is that this film is animated and Train to Busan was a live action feature.
*. I didn’t think Train to Busan was anything very new, and in terms of the action in this film I think it’s even less original.
*. The story plays out as just another outbreak scenario. There is the now familiar political subtext. We are immediately presented with a society that is falling apart. Seoul Station is a sort of unofficial homeless shelter, and it’s among the homeless that the zombie virus takes hold. Later, the police will think that they’re caught up in an outbreak of rabid derelicts. Meanwhile, families are dissolving. The younger generation can’t afford to live in even the most squalid apartments. A landlady complains that the young have no respect for their elders. Crazy people wander the subway system. When the shit hits the fan the state has to come in and go full martial law, and it’s not clear if that’s a bad thing.
*. I say the political subtext is familiar because the zombie genre is by now almost automatically associated with social satire and political commentary. Indeed, one can make the argument that this has been the form it has taken since the beginning.
*. The big disappointment here, however, is the one thing that is new: the animation. I was hoping for at least one of two things from this. Either (1) animation showing me something that live action can’t, or (2) a distinctive new look or visual style.
*. The first is, admittedly, very hard to do these days because effects films use so much CGI that they are already, to a significant extent, animated. I’m not sure there’s much left that animation can do that “live action” (I have to put the words in quotes) can’t. Mass armies of zombies taking over an urban downtown? Brains splattering in all different directions? This can all be done with digital effects, and done better.
*. This leaves the matter of a fresh look. Seoul Station doesn’t have one. The animation is as generic as it gets. Sure it looks OK most of the time, though the characters walk and run in a rather stiff way. But there’s no personal style to it, or individual artistic vision being expressed. It’s the film equivalent of Marvel or DC comics.
*. In sum: a garden-variety zombie apocalypse with hardly any gore and dull animation. The story actually has a nice twist near the end, but then settles for tying things up on a predictable note. Zombie fans may want to check it out just to see what a feature-length cartoon zombie movie looks like, but aside from that it’s not worth bothering with.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

*. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work. The first entry in a franchise or series often comes in overweight because it has to give us all the back story before things can really get moving. The initial sequel is more fun just because it doesn’t have to take itself so seriously and can drop the origin myth. Think of Superman and Superman II, or Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.
*. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 puts this in reverse. It’s actually longer than the first movie and includes more back story dealing with the totally uninteresting origins of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Making things even worse, it’s also more conventional than the first film, which I would have thought was impossible. Despite all the pinball special effects and Christmas lights on screen (Mark Kermode likened the look of the film to “the animated cover of a Yes album”) I was bored out of my mind with an hour left to go.
*. Does every Marvel movie featuring a team of superheroes (X-Men, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy) have to include a group portrait shot? This has become such a cliché.
*. What a dull story. It turns out that Kurt Russell is a small-g god named Ego who seems the same sort of tin-pot entity as the crew of the Enterprise face off against at the end of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Ego is also Peter’s father, Peter being a son of whom he is most proud. We later learn that Ego’s other offspring have ended up on the scrap heap, or boneyard, of history. So Peter becomes one with eternity but then decides he prefers being human and likes his adopted family better than his real dad.
*. You have to be pretty dim not to see where every frame of this is going. The hokey message is all about self-sacrifice and the importance of (new) familial bonds. Groot is still tiny, but that just makes him cute. There are no funny lines but just the usual attempts at milking humour from the incongruous ’80s references. The lumbering Drax (Dave Bautista) actually manages to steal the show, even from Pratt. Sylvester Stallone shows up for a cameo that serves no purpose at all. I couldn’t figure out why they even bothered with his character. Howard the Duck is again glimpsed in the background. A sequel is announced (damn). There are four or five inter-credit sequences that play at the end, to help you get through the full naming of the army of technicians who put this noisy piece of crap together.
*. This may sound like I’m being harsh, but the thing is I don’t hate all the Marvel movies and I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was OK. Vol. 2 received generally good reviews, but if it isn’t a terrible movie then what is?

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

*. I know I refer to these movies as MarvelCrap, but I’ll give credit for Marvel Studios for knowing their shtick and sticking to it. The improbably hunky, self-deprecating stars. The ironic dialogue. The gouts of CGI and explosions, and explosions and CGI.
*. If this is your thing, then sure: Guardians of the Galaxy delivers. Which means it’s more of the same. Following the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this one has our heroes once again trying to stop a Big Bad Guy from getting his hands on one of the Infinity Stones. These Infinity Stones are sources of great power. I’d tell you more but that’s all there is to tell. If a Big Bad Guy gets his hands on an Infinity Stone he can control or destroy the galaxy, or the universe, or whatever. The stakes are high.
*. I’d like to say I liked this one more, but despite being well handled it’s so formulaic it made my brain hurt. The team of misfits is introduced and assembled. At first they fight amongst themselves but under pressure they come together. A planet is threatened. They save the day. A sequel is promised.
*. Is it fun? I guess. I just have a hard time enjoying a film so predictable. You literally know how every chapter in the story is going to play out. There wasn’t a single surprise, and there weren’t as many laughs as promised either. On the charm scale I’d put it well behind Ant-Man and Deadpool (which were to be next up). It’s not without its moments, but at what point, you have to wonder, is Marvel going to hit a wall? They can’t keep making the same film forever. Can they?

File Under Miscellaneous (2010)

*. File Under Miscellaneous is a short film with a sharp political message. But I wonder if there’s something even  more going on under its skin.
*. The moral of the story is hard to miss. A young Mi’gMaq man enters a seedy-looking plastic surgery chop-shop in an attempt to get a new appearance that will allow him to pass for white. He gets what seems to be a total-body skin transplant and, in the most gruesome scene, has his tongue pulled out and replaced.
*. The removal of his tongue symbolizes the loss of his language. At the beginning the narrator speaks in a Native language, but after the operation the voiceover is in English. In his new language the man will now tell racist jokes to his white friends, and is all set to join them in their mission to “burn the land with our whiteness.”
*. All of this is pretty basic, and is effectively realized. However, what I find curious is this matter of language or, as the politically-sensitive style it, the appropriation of voice.

*. In the first place, the film is said to be adapted from the Pablo Neruda poem “Walking Around.” I wasn’t sure what to make of this, since Neruda’s poem is more about setting a grotesque mood of weltschmerz than it is about advancing a specific political agenda. What did writer-director Jeff Barnaby see in it, aside from the image of intestines spilling out of buildings?
*. I think Barnaby’s bigger debt is to Ridley Scott. His vision of the future is that of the now traditional dark, dystopic city of Blade Runner, a place where the sun never shines. And the giant screen with the face of the Great Leader is also derived from Scott, blending Blade Runner‘s video billboards with his famous 1984 Apple commercial.
*. What does it mean that a film about the loss of one’s native language is told in borrowed words and a borrowed visual style? Does that reinforce the point, or undermine it?
*. To add another element to the mix, the narrator specifically references becoming Aryan, and the Great Leader speaks not in English but in German. This is an obvious cultural reference to Nazis and racial cleansing, but doesn’t it undercut the idea of a monolithic whiteness? Shouldn’t the narrator have gotten a German tongue put in?
*. Similarly, while being a member of the dominant group obviously has its perks, the blandness of a monoculture is underwritten by the bar codes tattooed on the heads of its citizens. But doesn’t that make the in-group slaves, or something even worse?
*. I don’t think these questions can be answered with an easy yes or no. File Under Miscellaneous is a film that makes a strong statement, but not a simple one.

The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

*. OK, every now and then we all have to confess to guilty pleasures. Standing back from it, I don’t think The Brothers Grimsby is a good movie. I don’t think I’d want to see it again. Director Louis Leterrier, known for action films, doesn’t have much of a feel for comedy. It bombed at the box office, after having its release pushed back several times. Heaven knows critics hated it. But I was really in the mood for its style of comedy when I saw it and I laughed so hard I cried a bit.
*. I don’t think it could be any cruder. Most of the humour revolves around sex and anal fixations. And I’m not sure where you can go from the elephant gag.
*. Sticking with the elephant business, it was just a few minutes before that got started that I made a note to myself about how similar this all seemed to one of the Ace Ventura movies. Then come the elephants, which are obviously a bit of one-upmanship on Ace’s time inside the rhino.
*. Is there anything else that needs to be said? Not much. I find it interesting how similar a movie it is to Kingsman: The Secret Service, with its very laddish lad impressed into farcical cloak-and-dagger stuff, culminating in an extravagant end-of-the-world fireworks show. British comedy has always had a thing for playing off class differences.
*. Is it a political film though? You’d think so, but I can’t get much of a message out of it. Blood is thicker than water. The scum of the earth, or “chavs,” really are the scum of the earth, but they aren’t totally without redeeming qualities, at least in some situations. One can’t help feeling, however, that the makers of this film really despise them.
*. Analysis is pointless. It’s a collection of stupid jokes clapped on to a ramshackle premise. Some of the stupid jokes are hilarious, if you’re in the mood for stupid jokes. Sometimes they’re just stupid. But, staying in full confessional mode, I have to say that overall I enjoyed it.

Regression (2015)

*. Poor Ethan Hawke. He seems to be showing up quite a bit in these sorts of projects. But at least Sinister and The Purge made a lot of money, and working on Boyhood probably kept him happy, off and on, for a decade. Being a scruffy Everyman means you can always find some kind of work.
*. Hawke is actually a novelist as well as an actor. So is David Thewlis. I wonder what they thought of Regression‘s worthless script.
*. I know what Emma Watson thought of it. It’s written all over her face. I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor so obviously embarassed at what they were doing.
*. OK, you’ll have got the impression I didn’t like Regression. It’s a movie set in Minnesota in the Year of Our Lord 1990. This was around the time of the “Satanic ritual abuse” hysteria, and the story involves a cop (Hawke) and a psychiatrist (Thewlis) investigating a girl’s claim that her family are part of a coven of baby-killing devil-worshippers.
*. There are several ways they could have played such material, but they didn’t settle on any one in particular and so ended up with a mess. At times it achieves a certain dark atmosphere, and there are a couple of effective moments when we can feel Hawke slipping into paranoia, but as we go along we begin to wonder just how the events we’ve been witnessing will finally be resolved. And then they aren’t.
*. I think the way things wrap up, and you may insert a spoiler alert here, was the only responsible option. Watson’s character is a brat who, disgusted at her poor and dysfunctional family, made up her stories of ritual abuse. That’s fine, but it leaves much unexplained (like the suicide of the grandmother) while leaving unexplored any deep examination of the social and cultural phenomenon of these tragic modern witch hunts.
*. It seems to me that in such a story the psychiatrist Dr. Raines should be the hero. He’s the man of science and objective observer who stands outside the virus of mass hysteria that infects the town. But for some reason he’s almost entirely dropped from the second half of the film. I thought from Thewlis’s first appearance that they were going to let him play the Donald Pleasence character from Halloween, but no such luck. The script has nothing for him to do at all.
*. Another interesting angle left unexplored is the sexual attraction between Hawkes and Watson. However I don’t want to bother trying to think of all the ways the movie could have been better. There was some potential here for an interesting movie but it went unrealized. No point in saying more.

The Void (2016)

*. They wanted to make a horror movie that would take everything and throw it at the wall, to see not only what would stick but what would create the most interesting splatter patterns.
*. So, there’s a devil-worshipping cult. A mad doctor. A siege. Lots of people running around with axes. Knife-wielding psychos in hoods. A shape-shifting creature. Monsters bursting out of people’s guts. Tentacles. A portal to hell located in the basement . . .
*. In other words, The Void is a kind of horror-film compendium filmed in what Kim Newman described as the directors’ “pastiche mode.” There are a lot of borrowings, some of them quite direct. Despite all of this, however, the writing-directing team of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski have little to say about their inspirations on the DVD commentary track.
*. This is a point I talked about a bit in my notes on Black Mountain Side, how so many commentaries remain silent on even the most obvious influences. Here the filmmakers do mention Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness once in passing, though I thought the borrowings from that film (especially the climax) might have called for them to say a bit more.

*. Instead, the question of influence is rejected. Despite what are direct quotes the directors say they are “not referencing anything specifically.” While they admit to liking various classic horror films from the ’80s they hadn’t intended any kind of throwback or homage. I found this weird, almost protesting too much. Why not just say that they got the shot of the two characters falling together into the portal from the end of Prince of Darkness? And since the most pervasive spirit here is that of Fulci, and the final shot is another direct quote from the end of The Beyond, why not acknowledge this? Instead they say it is “not a reference to The Beyond,” nor “meant to specifically evoke anything from The Beyond.” Really? Not even on a subconscious level?
*. I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with filmmakers taking inspiration from other movies. In fact, it’s inevitable, especially when working within a genre like horror. So I don’t know why so many of today’s directors seem so intent on staying silent or even rejecting the imputation of influence. But this is just a digression on a commentary so I’ll drop it.
*. As for the movie, I thought it was mostly fun, albeit without much of a sense of humour. I expected a few laughs given the chaos of the proceedings. And while Aaron Poole is a decent actor, let’s face it, he doesn’t look at all like a cop. He looks like he belongs in a comedy. Couldn’t they have at least asked him to shave?

*. The main monster is another one of those melted-plastic agglomerations we’ve seen so many of since Carpenter’s The Thing. I wonder if The Thing is where they really got there start though. Since The Thing the look has been repeated many times, right away in Leviathan and all the way up to Splinter and this movie. But was The Thing the first movie to feature a monster that looked like this?
*. I did like the monster, all the more for its being done mainly with practical effects. The creature at the end also scores the movie’s only good kill when it stomps on the head of a fallen disciple and crushes it like a grape. Aside from the monsters, however, there wasn’t much that was thrilling or new. Or scary, which is a bigger problem.
*. The story is a string to hang the different effects on, which is something else that connects it to Fulci. I’m not sure if it made any sense, and all the different horror tropes I began by listing feel only loosely stitched together. The disciples don’t appear to have much of a function, for example. And there’s a Father and Son team that are never explained. For some reason a woman holding a baby follows these two around and I think I missed what she was supposed to represent.
*. The film was shot in Sault Ste. Marie, which the directors found eerily decayed (“you can’t fake that kind of decay”) and forbidding: “something about the atmosphere of that place felt very, very scary.” Really? I’ve been there and just thought it was depressing. But that was a while ago.
*. Well, even if they said they didn’t want to make a throwback horror movie I think this one will appeal mostly to fans of those films. The design elements and photography are both good and help it look like it cost a lot more than its crowdfunded microbudget. Still, it struck me in the end as too many ideas and too many monsters chasing a plot. That in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing, necessarily, but given the direction they were taking I think Gillespie and Kostanski needed a few more really scary scenes or else a few more jokes.

A Cure for Wellness (2016)

*. There’s a scene that occurs about halfway through A Cure for Wellness that goes a long way to tell you what’s wrong with the film. The protagonist Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is introduced to a giant sensory deprivation tank. And when I say giant I mean about five times bigger than the tank William Hurt floated in back in Altered States, which was already five times bigger than it needed to be. We see that Lockhart is going to float at the bottom of the tank, breathing through a long umbilical breathing hose (the experience is supposed to mimic being in the womb). Sensors are also attached to his chest to monitor his heart rate on a graph machine set up beside where an attendant is stationed. The attendant can view Lockhart through a glass window in the tank. Finally, Lockhart is told to just tap on the glass if there is any trouble.
*. Well, you’re probably saying to yourself, I’ll bet this is what’s going to happen. First, something is going to distract the attendant. Then something scary is going to happen to Lockhart in the tank and he’ll signal to get out. But the attendant, who is distracted, won’t see him. Then the needle on the graph will start going crazy as Lockhart panics. Then, since this is only an hour in to a two-and-a-half hour movie, he will be rescued from the tank, gasping and nearly unconscious.

*. You would, of course, be right about all of this. I hope that gives some idea how uninspired A Cure for Wellness is. There are no surprises. A young man (not Leonardo DiCaprio) heads off to a Swiss sanatorium (not Shutter Island, or Marienbad) to rescue a CEO named Kurtz (no! his name’s Pembroke), only to find that it’s one of those sinister hospitals where something monstrous is going on. Once people check in, they never leave. The head doctor (Jason Isaacs, not Vincent Price) doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you can trust. (Robbie Collin: “If I tell you the name of the doctor is Heinreich Volmer, do you think he’s going to turn out to be nice? Not so nice? Hard to tell?”) The staff are obviously all in on it, whatever “it” is, but they aren’t saying anything. Patients disappear. It seems like there’s something in the water. There’s a story about the sanatorium involving a mad baron and his child bride, who was burned at the stake. Have you got all that?
*. To give you another example of this predictability, the finale has Lockhart uncovering the secret of the spa through close examination of an old photograph. The only problem is that while he’s doing this the audience has already figured things out. In fact, it’s likely we figured it all out an hour before the movie ends. So all the business with the photograph is just more dragging things out, for a payoff that’s not worth it.

*. It didn’t do well with critics or audiences, though some praise was thrown its way for the photography. I thought this was misplaced. It’s another movie with great-looking production design, but that’s all. It’s just pretty. The sanatorium is a Disney fairy tale castle, complete with a princess in need of being rescued. On the inside it’s all done out in the spirit of gothic medicine: primitive apparatuses that look like medieval torture machines and lots of creepy corridors that don’t seem to go anywhere. On the lower levels you get the candles and the fetuses floating in jars of formaldehyde. Again, you know the picture. You’ve seen all of this before.

*. CGI doesn’t scare me. I don’t like what it’s done to film in general, but what I mean here is that it doesn’t scare me, and I scare pretty easy. CGI monsters and CGI gore leave me unimpressed. For the most part the monsters here are a bunch of eels that are CGI. I wasn’t scared, or even disgusted that much, by them. And I think that I was supposed to be.
*. There isn’t any story to speak of beyond the basic premise. This is a movie meant to look at, not to follow. There are a bunch of creepy images but they don’t all connect and we’re never sure how many of them are real and how many are visions. Basically the plot is an extrapolation of data points from Thomas Mann and Kafka through Poe and Lovecraft to whatever or wherever we’re at now. The ending is particularly bad, lazy and bordering on offensive. And the message?

*. Some reviewers, and I mean more than a few, saw the whole thing as somehow symbolic, or a metaphor for late-stage capitalism. Perhaps they were getting this from press kits. Here is composer Benjamin Wallfisch telling us what it all made him think of: “This movie confronts you with some potent questions: How do we find true meaning in a world of consumerism and material gain, where we have to strive to find truth in a maze of media manipulation?”
*. To which I can only respond: Huh? Yes, Lockhart is a soulless Wall Street prick. And yes the patients at the spa are rich people being sucked dry by a demonic mountebank but . . . so what? How is this a satire or critique of materialism? Does Verbinski just want to say that chasing after money is a sign of sickness and moral rot and that we need to find some kind of wholesome balance in our lives? Not, assuredly, at this particular clinic, but, you know, somewhere. Is that it?
*. Why throw so much in the way of talent and resources into such a retread of an idea, such a mishmash of other films, none of them particularly groundbreaking themselves? Roger Corman or Hammer would have made this same movie (and I think they did) in ten days (not the five months this took) and for $100,000. And while it might not have looked as slick, it would have at least made sense and not taken so long.