Black Mass (2015)

BlackMass

Many people have been waiting for Johnny Depp to shed his Jack Sparrow persona and return to the world of acting. Although Black Mass delivered his long over due performance, that wasn’t all Scott Cooper delivered. Johnny Depp equally shares the screen with Joel Edgerton, who delivered a performance that was full of range and believability. In particular, Edgerton portrayal of John Connolly is always able to gain great sympathy from the audience, even when the character was the most despicable or self righteous.

The story itself may have been slow or less kinetic than what the movie audience has grown to expect from gangster movies. However, this is not a bad thing. The plot is organic, and although it is all being told through interviews and interrogations, each piece evolves naturally. There’s never a time when one is left scratching their heads over leaps of logic. There is a part of the movie where Johnny Depp’s character, Whitey, explains to his son that, “If nobody saw you do it, then it didn’t happen”. This phrase is part of Cooper’s meticulously crafted movie. Through out the movie, one may notice that Whitey never appears in a scene by himself. Therefore, there isn’t a time where we see Whitey’s express his inner turmoil or hear long voice over monologues. This isn’t to say there aren’t opportunities where we could have been clued in, yet we don’t witness the personal transformation of Whitey. Instead, Cooper puts us in the witness’ chair. Not only does this technique help remind us this is story compiled through interviews and research, but also it forces the audience to only focus on the crimes Whitey committed. After all, that is why we know who Whitey is in the first place. Watching him grieve over the loss of his family would have helped further develop the character, but it would have also distracted us from this movie’s intent. That is why Depp was perfect for this role. Depp has an amazing talent of embodying his character to the point where we don’t need exposition and back story to understand his role.

In a relatively short career, this being Cooper’s third directed movie, he has shown us that he is confident in his actors as well as himself and even the audience. There’s never a moment where we feel he had to dumb things down to hold our attention. Black Mass simply flows with a natural rhythm that feels right for the story he is telling.

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Nightmare Code (2014)

NIGHTMARECODE

Nightmare Code is part of the Techno Horror genre that takes aim at the dangers of AI or technological dependancy while captivating the audience with unnerving tension balanced with twitch style editing.

The Techno Horror genre flourished in the early nineties with movies like Lawnmower Man or franchises like Terminator or Cyborg. However, due to budget restraints or poor execution the genre quickly went dormant. After all, this was a genre where it was ok to hit stop before the final act. Twenty years later, society has AI on the horizon and is struggling with its addiction to technology. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise the Techno Horror genre is being revitalized. Nightmare Code is one of the newest additions to the genre.

Largely, it’s shot and edited together, and using fixed camera perspectives giving us the illusion of watching everything through security cameras or webcams. Often, each scene cycles through a four-panel grid giving the audience a lot of information to digest. The pacing of these scenes and edits keeps our eyes glued to the screen absorbing every detail looking for clues. In addition, the panels are often out of chronological sequence with one another. The camera will also focus on protagonists and points of interests. This creates the unsettling revelation that everything we’re seeing is subjective, and someone or something is behind our monitor’s controls. This is much similar to My Little Eye where the audience becomes voyeurs while trying to unravel the who-done-it mystery.

Because of the unforgiving nature of the camera style, it’s unfair to assess the actors’ performances. There are times that the acting seems awkward or comical because of the camera’s high-low direction. On the other hand, much of the script’s character development is done through philosophical dialogue, which can go from thought provoking to superfluous in a single breath. That isn’t to say all the characters aren’t well done. This movie provided the antagonist with an original and very eery character arc. One of the highlights of the film was when it put us in the POV of the antagonist, Foster, via techno sunglasses and is able to provide a jaded understanding for the character.

The movie juggled a lot of paranoid themes against technology and it struggled to focus on just one. However, it decided to settle upon society’s desire to become immortalized through our technological avatars and the willingness to sacrifice our real lives and our connection to everyone around us. Although Nightmare Code’s final act stumbled with pacing, struggled with its lofty idea, and broke its camera style, it was able to push the audience to a satisfactory finish.

Human Centipede (2009)

In 2009 Tom Six released HCa film everyone knows, few have watched, and nobody wants to see. Human Centipede reminds us of the exploitation era of the seventies where films like Last House on the Left, Cannibal Holocaust and Salo were considered too shocking to watch. Unlike other modern Torture Porn movies like Hostel II or the Saw franchise, Human Centipede slows the pacing down thereby dancing on the razor’s edge between body horror and torture porn.
Is it sadistic or entertaining to watch? It is definitely entertaining. One can’t ignore the deliberate framing and composition of every shot. This isn’t a shaky cam running through a film makers sadistic imagination. From scenes of deep green’s and reds to warm amber tones, we view Tom Six painting with colors and always directing our visual focus. This even includes using paintings of bloody siamese twins. It’s pleasing when we can tell we’re moving to the next sequence simply due to a detailed shot composition.
The story focuses on Dr. Heiter, a sadistically evil doctor of Nazi proportions. Dieter Laser’s performance of Dr. Heiter is beyond extraordinary. His body language is so masterful there are times we can see rage boiling beneath his skin. One of the truly terrifying moments is when he is coaxing Ashley C. Williams’ character, Lindsay, out of her hiding place. His life is dedicated to realizing his fantasy of creating conjoined creatures, such as siamese twins or a Human Centipede, and that is the premise. A body horror premise that is so simple but it carries enough weight to gross out and scare people away from ever watching it. Yes, there is definitely a moment one may pause and wonder if it’s the Deep Throat for those with the scatological fetish. Maybe, it would be if it lacked the previously mentioned technical skill and the theme wasn’t about pain.
The theme is where we edge back against the torture porn. The genre isn’t about the actual infliction of pain and suffering. Rather, it’s about isolation and submission. Them not being able to fight back or has any power to stop their conjoined fate is terrifying. Then, when reality starts to settle in, we realize this self proclaimed doctor lacks the ability to successfully pull off this experiment. This is one of the most mature aspects of the writing. When we begin, we’re given an absurdist movie, there’s a shot of a guy mourning his three conjoined dogs, and we visit the lives of the two melodramatic girls. However, as the story progresses, we see the colors fade into a sterile white and the operation becomes more documentary style. There’s an unnerving scene of the doctor formally explaining their procedure while an unmic actor screams in the background giving it more of that “this could happen to you” tone.
Although our victims go to a point of no return, our catharsis is delivered because of Dr. Heiter’s ego. After he takes on godhood, we watch his ego stumble and become careless. One could easily imagine all the problems going wrong with this doctor’s conjunction and procurement of victims. However, there are no quick endings in this tale of madness, for not even a bullet to the head promises a quick death. In the end, the slower pacing made sure this movie never pushed to extreme shock, and the high production quality and great performances continue to make it a horror that shouldn’t be ignored.