Check out my brief foray into the world of podcasting. Listen to my guest spot on Bren Murphy's fantastic Under Your Bed Horror Podcast.
I'm talking about my three favourite horror film; John Carpenter's Halloween, Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Rob Zombie's brilliant sequel The Devil's Rejects. It's never easy to pick only three favourite films so there's brief interludes of me gushing about Scream and Child's Play.
Apart from my guest appearance, have a rummage around the blog. It's only new but there's some interesting articles up there about the world of horror. And podcast #1 features talented Dublin writer Emmet Vincent.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Written and directed by: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy
For such fascinating subject matter there really aren’t very many good films made about cults. I know there have been countless TV movies about the Manson family, Jonestown and Waco but it is sadly rare to see films that treat the subject with any kind of psychological depth. Sean Durkin’s debut film Martha Marcy May Marlene is one such rarity.
Focussing very much NOT on the machinations of life in a cult, but instead on the devastating psychological residue after one girl’s daring escape from the commune, the film's insight into life in the commune comes in flashes. These short but very telling snippets merely highlight what she went through and some of the ploys used to keep the members loyal. Durkin chooses not to dwell on life in the cult which serves the overall arc nicely but leaves the audience gagging to spend more time inside the commune and in the presence of their absolutely terrifying leader Patrick, a typically charismatic leader dripping with menace.
Martha, the young escapee is taken in by her older sister. Their relationship is complicated and it is clear that this is not the warmest environment for Martha as she tries to rejoin society. Her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) lives in a large lake house; very modern and very cold, with her new husband Ted, a short-tempered workaholic. It is the polar opposite of beat-up, energetic but strangely inviting house on the commune. As Lucy genuinely tries to understand her sister and sympathise with her there is always a sense that she is weary of Martha’s negative presence in her otherwise pleasant life. There are tender moments between the two and some affection but the sisters just cannot connect.
The two worlds the film inhabits, the lake house and the commune, seem equally oppressive to Martha and it is with great sadness that the audience slowly accepts that maybe this girl won’t ever feel part of any society.
Much of the film focuses on Martha’s paranoia after escaping the cult. She fears Patrick and she knows he will go to any lengths to get her back. The line is often blurred between what is happening in reality and what Martha’s mind is creating out of fear. For some this may prove tiresome and that’s understandable but there’s something to be admired in Durkin’s ability to stay true to his vision for the film and not to fall into any soap opera theatrics, though the film is not without its nerve-shredding scenes.
Martha, a complex, not always likeable character, is played with remarkable power and haunting sympathy by Elizabeth Olsen, sister to the not even remotely haunting Olsen Twins. Cast just two weeks before the shoot, Elizabeth’s wholesome beauty and melancholy eyes are sure to remain niggling at you for a long time after the films ends. The same can be said for John Hawkes as Patrick, whose sharp sneer and intelligent eyes will surely stay in your nightmares for a long time after. Like his Oscar-nominated turn as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone, Hawkes is both brimming with menace and oozing unconventional charm. The hold he has over Martha (or Marcy May, as he chooses to name her) and her naïve acceptance of his love packs a powerful punch mainly due to the wealth of subtle energy behind both actors’ eyes. Despite the depth of Patrick’s cruelty and devastating emotional manipulation there’s something in the performance that makes him strangely alluring; just seductive enough to ensure the situation is believable. Two extremely strong characters and equally strong performances carry the film into much more interesting territory.
Martha Marcy May Marlene may not be a perfect film and many will be frustrated by its lack of conclusions of any sort but it is certainly unique and it’s dozy, dreamy air makes for haunting cinema.
- Charlene Lydon
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Psychological afflictions don’t come much more interesting than sex addiction. It’s a sad, fascinating and deeply damaging disease and one which has been washed over by dozens of over-sexed fading movie stars who have touted it as the reason for their sudden stint in rehab. As we raise our eyebrows at these less than sympathetic characters the reality of the affliction becomes little more than a joke to most people. But of course sex addiction does exist and it’s ugly, deadening and painful to watch.
Director Steve McQueen, the king of “horribly stark” takes us on a journey over the course of a few days with Brandon, a handsome yuppie living it up in downtown Manhattan. He is also a sex addict. For a while it’s all piercing stares and visual examination of his clearly carefully sculpted body but it soon becomes very clear that for Brandon, sex isn’t sexy. It is creepy and it is cold and his hunger for it is a constant distraction. Things really kick off when his sister Sissy invades his life and invites herself on to his couch for a few days. Brandon’s world is cold, clinical and ordered and when a frazzled, damaged Sissy enters it, all hell breaks loose.
If Brandon is a closed book, Cissy is his polar opposite. She wears her naïve heart on her sleeve and it is horrible to see how broken she is but even worse to know (or guess, I suppose) that this is a situation she gets herself in time and time again. As we follow Brandon through his series of encounters and a particularly upsetting date with a woman who is smart, beautiful and who he really feels for we experience the depths of his problems and his despair.
Fassbender plays this role to perfection. His sculpted body and square jaw give him enough cheesy appeal to ensure we believe he would rarely find it difficult to attract women but his steely, cold eyes give him the mystique to buy into the fact that there’s more going on behind the eyes than we think.
The relationship between he and his sister is not explored fully but enough is shown and hinted at to presume that they did not have a conventional childhood. Both seem to understand each other in that level of familiarity that only exists between people who grew up together but they are also worlds apart in so many ways that they almost challenge each other to understand the alien worlds they each live.
Shame is a success on many levels. It is engaging and atmospheric and shows many of the ways in which sex addiction is unglamorous. However, I was slightly disappointed with the film’s ability to bring anything new to the table. As it ended I came away feeling that I’d seen all this before and at the end of the day for all its nudity and lingering focus on its subjects it didn’t feel very intimate and felt almost conventional. As engaging as it was, there was nothing to mull over when the credits rolled and no new perspective to justify the time we spent in Brandon’s company. Maybe I’ve been desensitised by four seasons of Californication, a subtler but no less unsettling exploration of sex addiction but I didn’t feel that Shame gave me any new material to consider on the subject.
Shame is enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing but ultimately unrewarding, I can’t help feeling like this is a somewhat shallow representation of a misunderstood and underestimated disease. That being said, there’s much to admire in the film and it’d definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
- Charlene Lydon