Reflections Upon The Loss of Self

 

Sometimes I wish, that you,
Would just die;
For then, your absence,
Would be not from choice,
But dictated by the hands of fate.

Two years, since the fact,
Two years I’ve searched;
To replace, to upgrade,
Such a rare slice,
Of divine rarity.

Why now, even now,
Do I cry for you?
Why do you haunt me so?
That eternal invader, intruder,
Of my subconscious, my love.

Now joy, emotional discourse,
Alien concepts to me;
A disconnect, between man,
And I, alone stand, an anomaly,
In a sea of mediocre clones.

Was I, born of this world,
I do not comprehend?
Or did I fall, from the barren depths,
From the outer cosmos?
An Elder One without kin.

You, you humans see,
With eyes and feelings;
I, the gelatinous mound,
Of tentacles and malice,
See only through red.

I am, the colour red,
In a world of black and white;
None but you, could provide,
Clarity; part my darkness,
With your ethereal light.

Two years, to most,
Enough time to heal;
That only applies, to those who feel,
For I feel nothing, but the loss of you.
Can’t you see?
Can’t you see that I’m lost without you?

Joshua Moulinie

Blair Witch (2016), a Review

blair witch.png

Director – Adam Wingard

Writer – Simon Barrett

Starring – James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Valorie Curry

When the original The Blair Witch Project hit cinemas in 1999 it was nothing short of a revelation. Whilst it was not the first film to ever deploy the found-footage style of film making, it was certainly the first to garner this much mainstream success and critical praise, changing  the face of the horror genre, and leading to hundreds of copycats all attempting to emulate that success.

The beautiful thing about this belated sequel is that nobody knew it was coming, as hype had been built for the mysterious The Woods, which was touted as one of the scariest films for years. It was only late in the day we discovered that The Woods was, in fact, a Blair Witch sequel. With no time for cynicism to kick in, the film rode in on a wave of hype. For the most part it delivers, managing to be both an atmospheric experience and a worthy successor.

In 2014, James Donahue finds a video containing a supposed image of his sister Heather who disappeared in 1994 ,near Burkittsville, while investigating the legend of the Blair Witch. Believing she is still alive, he heads into the woods, accompanied by friends Peter Jones, Ashley Bennett, and film student Lisa Arlington, who wants to film the search and use it as a documentary. Locals Talia and Lane join them, telling them that the Blair Witch is very real, and to be very afraid. Predictably (in a good way), weird shit begins to happen and all hell breaks loose.

The found-footage format is seen by many as a lazy way to make cinema, and, in many ways, that is a completely accurate statement. Gone is the need to worry about great cinematography or fancy editing techniques, as the format simply does not allow for this to happen. Instead we get a raw and visceral experience, devoid of any frills or window-dressing. For some genres this simply wouldn’t work. In the horror genre, however, it thrives.

This is because it allows a much more intimate experience. We see through the eyes of the hapless victims, which allows us to feel much closer to the action, whilst also means our vision is as restricted as the characters, so we never see the antagonistic force before they do. We feel every moment of terror as if we ourselves were facing it. It’s an immersive experience, and, when done correctly, can be absolutely terrifying.

In that aspect, Blair Witch works wonderfully for the first hour. It understands the basic idea that, in horror, it’s often the imagination of the audience that will conjure up something more terrifying than the screen could possibly replicate. I’ve often said that human beings aren’t afraid of the dark itself. Rather, they fear what may live inside the dark, as the imagination tries to fill the blanks. It’s known commonly as ‘The Less is More effect’ and it almost always works sublimely.

The director, Adam Wingard, demonstrated his understanding of this in the wonderful horror anthology film VHS, and he again proves it here. Everything is implied, little is shown. We are left to imagine, for the most part, what’s happening. Our imaginations running wild in fear. It absolutely heightens the experience relying not on terrifying creature designs or over-use of gore, but, instead, our own primal anxieties and fears.

Unfortunately, the film won’t be as impactful to those who remember the original clearly, as a lot of the story beats are similar. Fortunately, I’d long forgotten the ins and outs of the first and consequently this felt fresh to me in a stagnant contemporary horror scene. That said, if you do remember the first, or are a super fan, it probably won’t work as well. You may well get the dreaded feeling of ‘Been there, seen that’, which is a damn shame.

The format itself, annoyingly, doesn’t always makes sense. Occasionally we get first-person shots that are impossible within the parameters of the film. We’re shown, clearly, that only three characters at maximum carry cameras. Yet, every character gets a first-person shot at some point, completely dismantling the illusion. It’s as if the director forgot the basic rule of filmmaking, the idea of remembering where every character is in relation to one another. It’s a small issue that only cinephiles and critics are likely to spot, and your casual film-goer certainly won’t notice, but it does shatter the illusion for those with a sharp eye.

The ending is also problematic, as they undo a lot of good will by showing us The Witch herself, which , sadly, is a massive let-down. It’s only a fleeting glimpse, but it was completely unnecessary and kinda disappointing and spits in the face somewhat of what came before it.  The final scenes are also, frankly, naff, trying to be extremely clever and bring the first film into play, but ending up as a bit of a confusing mess.

It also features two massive moments of stupidity from the surviving two characters which would seal their fate, which could be attributed to the fear overriding their common sense, or, if you want to be more pretentious, the idea that they’d surrended to their fate. This only works though if you, the audience, decide to interpret the scene in a certain way, and the most common reading will almost certainly be that it was just a stupid idea.

In terms of performances, everybody does a good job and are mostly convincing. As the lead, McCune is asked to carry the emotional gravitas of the story, which he manages more often than not, and he’s very convincing during the segments where he conveys terror. Callie Hernandez is also particularly good as Lisa, putting in a authentic and believable performance throughout. Sadly, the rest of the cast falls a little short, but none are particularly bad or even approaching terrible.

It’s hard to gauge the script, really, as it attempts to be as natural as possible and replicate authentic human reactions. Consequently we get a lot of goofing around early, and a lot of ‘Fucks’ and heavy breathing when things get more heated. It makes sense, and it is believable and convincing, just somewhat lacking in sparkle.

Wingard does a fantastic job in the director’s chair, proving that VHS was no fluke and that he has a talent for unsettling and audience. He coaxes strong performances out of all his actors and his use of sound is sublime. The sound in particular is responsible for a large proportion of the terror. It is continuously unsettling, with very subtle whispers piped in for maximum pant-shitting effect. Unfortunately, he fucks it a bit with the aforementioned poor understanding of his own format.

Blair Witch is certainly a far superior sequel to the previous one, Book of Shadows (2000), which was the absolute drizzling shits. This is a mostly effective horror flick that manages in partsto be genuinely terrifying, whilst remaining unsettling throughout the run-time. Unfortunately, it takes liberties with the format and the ending takes a nosedive. Still, a great horror experience, and Wingard looks like a talent for the future.

 

Final Rating – 3.8/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

 

 

Passengers (2016) , a review

 

Passengers

Director – Morten Tyldum

Writer – Jon Spaihts

Starring – Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishbourne

From the fabled Hollywood Black List; a list of screenplays considered of the highest quality, yet still unproduced; Jon Spaihts Passengers, completed in 2007, finally came to fruition via Sony Pictures, with The Imitation Game‘s Morten Tyldum attached to direct. Starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, two of Hollywood’s biggest names and easily a potential dream combination, and with a director of that pedigree from a script with this much hype, big things were expected. Sadly, Passengers is shockingly generic.

The starship Avalon is transporting over 5,000 colonists and crew in hibernation pods to the planet Homestead II, a journey taking 120 years. Thirty years into its journey,  a malfunction awakens one passenger, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). After discovering he’s awoken far too early, and consequently spending a year alone on the shipe, Jim contemplates suicide. Until  he notices Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her pod. Her video profile reveals she is a writer with a humorous personality. After obsessively learning everything about her, he struggles with the moral decision of whether or not he should awake her. The rest is shockingly predictable.

The premise is a strong one, with plenty of scope for exploration, and an intriguing hook that made for a very enticing trailer. Unfortunately, Spaihts takes the easiest and most predictable route throughout the script, riding that lazy road all the way to an ending that could have been ripped from one of those awful love novels everybody’s Mum reads.

If you go into this expecting a thought-provoking Sci-Fi, perhaps musing on the nature of humanity, or even the nature of love or isolation, you’ll be sadly mistaken. What you get, unfortunately, is a glorified love drama with extremely troubling undertones that merely takes place inside a spaceship. And those undertones are truly, truly disturbing. This is a male fantasy of the worst kind, glorifying manipulation and voyeurism, with an awfully dated justification given at the end.

The science is ropey at best, capped off with a slingshot around a star that would have undoubtedly caused them to boil alive as they get extremely close. We also get quasi-scientific jargon aimed directly the lowest common denominator. This includes such terms as ‘Magnet boots’ and an extremely unique take on the laws of gravity.  They also show us Jim doing technical science stuff, but don’t trust us, the audience, to possibly understand it, so make no attempts whatsoever to explain it.

Insulting us, the audience, doesn’t stop there however. Passengers includes that classic cinematic sin where the protagonist declares out loud a key plot point that just happened, even though he’s alone in the room and there is nobody there to listen. Implying we the audience are far too stupid to possibly have figured it out via camera work alone, even though cinema has been conditioning us to do this since it began, so Jim literally spells it out for us. It’s condescending cinema at it’s very worst, and frankly I often felt like my intelligence was being not just insulted, but viciously abused.

The dialogue isn’t just expositional and condescending, managing to also come stuffed with as many generic love-drama quotes as possible. All the classics are here; from ‘You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen’ to ‘You can’t leave me. I can’t survive without you’. It’s as if, when writing the screenplay,  Spaihts decided not to waste time and effort doing actual writing, and instead fed a super computer with every soppy romance ever written, coupled with the words ‘And space stuff’ and this was what it shat back out.

The film’s biggest issue though, by far, is the aforementioned disturbing nature of the narrative. Whilst we could probably all sympathise somewhat with Jim’s loneliness, his decision to unplug Aurora is downright despicable, and arguably one of the worst acts a cinematic character has ever done. He doesn’t simply kill her; he rids her of her entire plan for the future, all her hopes and dreams, with no other reason than to quell his own sense of isolation. It’s inexcusable, and unforgivable.

Now, the film does acknowledge this, so some credit is due. Unfortunately, the ending completely undoes it. If you want to go in blind, ignore this next paragraph. SPOILER ALERT.

She completely forgives him. Straight up. After struggling for a few days, the deus ex machina of the ship itself being set to self-destruct causes Jim to heroically save the day, and for her to realise she really loved him. It’s problematic for obvious reasons, reasons I don’t feel I need to explain in 2017. Simply put though, it’s OK that he saved her from a life threatening situation, so she decides to ignore the fact he completely and utterly ruined her life just to seduce her. It’s moments like this we realise we still need feminism.

They also don’t really go all the way with a lot of potential themes. Jim, for example, spends a year alone in space with absolutely zero human contact. Yet, other than feeling depressed, he’s pretty much fine, and quite quickly gets over any potential madness caused by the insufferable isolation. It’s almost as if this was aimed more at the romance market than the Sci-Fi audience, and consequently the writer was too afraid to take these themes any further, merely presenting an almost Disneyfied version of events. It’s a true shame, because it could have been something special.

Now, it’s not all bad. Pratt and Lawrence give great accounts of themselves and do, arguably, the best they possibly could with what they had to work with. There is a believable chemistry between the two, and it never feels contrived or fabricated. Lawrence is certainly the stronger actor of the two, however, as Pratty unfortunately falls a bit short when asked to display intense emotions. He’s got some incredible charisma and a natural flair for comedy, but he still lacks the gravita to bring balance and emotion.

The visual elements are also mostly good, other than some less than spectacular CGI, and Tyldrum does nothing in the director’s chair to disgrace himself. He, again, does pretty much the best he could with the film, yet it’s hard to gauge just how good a director he is, as the script hinders him somewhat. His direction is fine, whilst never doing anything particularly great or awful.  The score is solid, accompanying the piece fine whilst never overshadowing the action. You won’t be humming it down the streets when you leave, but it’s serviceable.

Passengers is a great idea poorly executed, hamstrung by clunky expositional writing and a fear of truly pushing the ideas to their natural conclusions, whilst patronising the audience all the way. A film without a clear audience, as it’s effectively a romance drama masquerading as a poignant Sci-Fi, and will almost certainly fall flat with audiences of both genres. It also manages to be a disturbing celebration of voyeurism, manipulation and Stockhold Syndrome, which is troublesome.

 

 

Final Rating – 3.5

 

Joshua Moulinie