A Little Bit of Horror in Paris…
With the explosion of a genre stunner that’s going to trigger some serious shock waves: StarryEyes
A little bit of horror in Paris with the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival that just wound up its 4th year!
A little bit of horror… But too little, far too little in the end! If it’s true that globalization pushes creative movie products and works to the sidelines, French distributors’ heroic blinkered attitude toward genre films, which are constantly growing, makes you wonder! Showing hastily subtitled copies of John Dies at the End and All Cheerleaders Die was, from this standpoint, an unbelievable challenge for PIFFF during its previous years… The possibility of offering us stock cinema horror in 2014 has been reduced even more. Yet the audience is there, always in greater numbers, eager, loyal… Cult screenings, X-rated, out of competition or in competition, evening or afternoon, genre film fans filled the Gaumont Opéra movie theater, just a few minutes from the Paris Opera house.
Out of the eighteen movies shown, only eight were in competition. The festival’s highlight was the fantastic “Alien Invasion” night from 11PM to 7AM with: Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Philip Kaufman, The Blob by Chuck Russell, They Live by John Carpenter and Killer Klowns from Outer Space by Stephen Chiodo. Great movies all, but nothing very new. Whether it was French rigidity or this still young festival’s poor visibility, no world-wide premiere found its way into the selections.
Two fun nightmares, a delirious pseudo S&M, a trashy trip in the everyday life of a video journalist and the appalling transformation of an aspiring actress into a star without a soul, here is a brief summary of what we could have seen during these horrific Parisian screenings…
The Cult Screenings:
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) Wes Craven - 91 min
Re-released in theaters and presented at PIFFF with a perfect copy for its thirtieth anniversary, A Nightmare on Elm Street was certainly one of the best moments festivalgoers experienced. This top-notch horror film, winner of the Critic Award at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in 1985, still surprises by the tension it establishes from one end of the movie to the other and by the imaginative insanity it displays. Right from the tense and biting first scene with opening credits, shivers thrill through us… The movie’s impact on the big screen is phenomenal and Wes Craven’s genius fantastically powerful; Craven is never better than when he films our nightmares as being the sole and unique reality: We are awe-struck by Tina’s disembowelment and levitation, we are staggered by Nancy’s fall into the bottomless pit that her bathtub has become and, most of all, we are literally petrified by the horrendous carnage committed in the bedroom of Nancy’s boyfriend where a young Johnny Depp, playing her immature lover, turns into a geyser of blood before changing into a torrent, then into a swimming pool full of blood and gore. These mind-blowing scenes are pure moments of madness and filmmaking genius. Moments of rare visual and emotional beauty. A Nightmare On Elm Street still remains today just as surprising, terrifying and exhilarating. In the same style, one has seldom done as well since.
WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971) Ted Kotcheff - 108 min
Shown in the festival with a restored copy after long years in limbo (there were no VHS or DVD releases or TV airings, nothing that would have made it possible to build up this fierce, exceptional movie’s reputation), Wake in Fright has been released in theaters and finally shines forth in all of its voracious, nihilistic and frightening splendor.
With this movie, the director of First Blood puts us alongside John Grant, a polished “Rambo” who takes on the appearance of a young teacher on his way to Sydney to find his fiancée in an arid Australia where the feeling of isolation and insecurity rival with stupidity, idleness and cruelty. After stopping at Bundanyabba, a small town where he’s going to get bogged down in a gambling addiction, forced alcoholism, sexual brutality, the slaughter of kangaroos and self disgust, Grant is going to return to his home, back to square one, without managing to make it to Sydney…
By showing us the tragic path taken by his sleek, conformist hero, Ted Kotcheff reveals the fine line that separates humanity from animality and the point where loss of morality and survival merge: An arduous and intimate trip in the revolting lands of human disgust!
The X-Rated Screening:
R100 (2013) Hitoshi Matsumoto - 100 min
R100, whose title refers to the Japanese system of movie classification (understand here that this movie is off limits to any moviegoers under the age of 100), is an “X-rated” comedy, half-absurd, half-cartoonesque with parallel plots and scenes of people in the audience commenting on the movie, apparently to muddle the story. The film is about an ordinary man who signs a one-year contract (with no breach possible) to get roughed up by delectable creatures. Frightened by the painful and dangerous onslaughts these eccentric dominatrixes inflict on him every day, the man ends up breaching his contract at the risk of his life.
The inclusion of short sequences revealing possible questions the audience might have about the show it’s watching confirms the idea of a movie by staging the fantasized reality of a hero who’s suffering and not his real life… All these women, torrid and cruel, are in fact the fruit of his imagination! Through them, the hero gives his tormented mind the punishments it deserves all the better to get closer to the woman he loves and who now lives hooked up to an artificial respirator! The movie ends with the idea that a maximum threshold of suffering would explode all rationality, making this man even capable of giving birth…
Is R100 screwy? Oh, yeah, big time! Yet we remain outside of what is happening on the screen… Having said that, there are a few striking moments in the movie, like its superb introduction with this fascinating creature who is primping in front of a mirror… or the grotesque dance of the “queen of spit” who inadvertently kills herself plus the irresistible whip attack by the amazing Lindsay Kay Hayward, the movie’s real revelation… But the lack of pace, suspense, provocation and outrages (no scandalous scenes interrupt the comfort the story settles into), when coupled with the movie’s complex meaning make R100 a lovely objet, somewhat cold and nonconventional, but rather boring.
Out of Competition:
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) Dan Gilroy - 117 min
Released as Night Call in France, Nightcrawler, screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s first feature film is a tour de force. It’s a thriller, day scenes were shot in 35mm and night scenes in digital. Scope was added in a lab.
Action takes place in Los Angeles. The hero, Lou Bloom, is a petty thief who finds his calling by selling shock video footage to local TV stations. His ambition, supported by a successful beginning and questionable methods, gradually turns into an obsession…
Nightcrawler is an hypnotic movie totally driven by an impressive Jake Gyllenhaal. The actor, who produced the film, gives 200% of himself in a role of chilling ambiguity. Less charming and rougher than Tom Cruise’s Vincent in Collateral (the two movies are somewhat related particularly in the atmosphere they generate), Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou hides, behind his good-natured smile, a predatory being that’s purely sadistic. Since the actor Gyllenhaal is very likable, we accept Lou’s true face and his flaws.
In the movie, we follow the path of Lou, a sorry ass loser who struggles to find a job and is forced to steal to survive… Up until the day he happens upon an accident and sees two reporter-scavengers specialized in shooting shock footage that, once sold, will be shown on local TV stations’ major shows. Driven by an evident thirst for revenge, by a definite liking for risk and a remarkable sense of initiative, Lou sees his chance, seizes it and builds the future he wants as a video journalist. Quicker and smarter than the average person, Lou learns and calculates everything in a flash. He’s out of place, he surprises, he even manages to reach his goal, but once all his efforts are rewarded, he knowingly proves unworthy of what he receives and sets out to enslave all those who helped him on his way up: To make her his thing, he humiliates the woman he desires (René Russo’s magnificent) and sacrifices his only friend, hastening his death… He becomes monstrous and bluntly reveals his true nature: “And what if I didn’t have communication problems with people… In fact, what if I didn’t even like them!” he concludes as his “best” friend dies in front of him.
Besides Lou’s fantastic character and Gilroy’s brilliant directing, one of the movies most interesting aspects lies in this unbelievable feeling we have of living through certain events as though they were real news items suddenly inviting themselves into the story without having been asked. In this regard, the murders perpetrated in the villa, the shootout in the fast food restaurant and the amazing chase through the streets of Los Angeles are impressive in their realism and efficiency.
One of the other fascinating things about the movie is the vision it portrays of our cannibalistic society; of the alarming insecurity in which individuals struggle and the callousness the hero displays to get ahead (which he succeeds in doing very well). If Lou’s character has no empathy, doesn’t the system as it exists in our societies today contribute to the emergence of this kind of person? Using Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, the movie clearly puts the question out there and warns us.
STARRY EYES (2014) KEVIN KOLSCH / DENNIS WIDMYER - 96 min
Starry Eyes is the second feature film by the duo Kolsch–Widmyer, who also directed Absence released in 2009.
Starry Eyes tells about the descent into hell of one Sarah Walker, an aspiring actress who is ready to do whatever it takes to get her name on the top of the bill. Sarah lands an audition likely to open the doors to glory, but to get the part she covets, she has to pay a high price by submitting to the wishes of a strange sect that holds the keys to power in Hollywood.
Shot with a Red Camera in Los Angeles over a period of 18 days, the movie benefits from a solid screenplay, directing that is spot on and incisive, a cinematography more than well-crafted and fabulous actors including the brilliant Alexandra Essoe in the title role of Sarah and the extraordinary Maria Olsen as the casting director, the pawn of a libidinous producer.
Alexandra Essoe, the outstanding actress playing Sarah, literally bares all in the role of this fragile beauty suffering from trichotillomania (the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair) and determined to sell her soul. She becomes just as disgusting outside as inside after having inflicted the worst on herself and having accepted the inacceptable. Very Faustian, the character undergoes multiple physical transformations according to her psychological malaise and her mental and bodily suffering. Sarah is pushed in her descent to hell by a woman who could be her mother and whose character, played by Maria Olsen, has a central place in the story. In fact, this woman is going to catch Sarah pulling out her hair in a ladies’ restroom and decides to let her pass another audition so she can make her dreams come true. She’s the one who is going to warn her about what she will bring upon herself if she refuses to follow the rules… She is also going to encourage her to prostitute herself. This severe-looking woman, who sees everything and knows everything, is her true catalyst. She represents the maternal authority that Sarah is deprived of. She is the one who could positively guide the heroine and would almost be tempted to do so, as a certain gleam in her eyes suggests when Sarah sees the producer for the second time. A sententious mother, a possible protector, a rival, a confidante? The character is all those things and Maria Olsen recreates them fantastically. When Sarah chooses glory and, with it, to sell her soul by joining the sect, the character of this fictitious “mother” disappears…
Sublime, radical and atrocious, Sarah’s metamorphoses captivate and repel. The movie’s high point takes place in the last half hour when Sarah takes control of the story by becoming the story, and by giving herself what she wants more than anything else: to be a star, even if that means being responsible for an unprecedented massacre. The communicative elation with which the heroine gets revenge on her entourage (especially her oblivious and futile roomie friends) and the memorable, endless carnage she delights us with, offers one of those intense movie moments that remain etched in our memories for a long time.
With the theme of the actor who dreams of glory and gets tangled up in his fantasy world, Starry Eyes is somewhat related to Black Swan (which deals more with the performer’s schizophrenia) and especially Mulholland Drive (more oriented toward rivalries, the quest for recognition and absolute love). Just like the latter film, Starry Eyes attacks the Hollywood star system and the monstrosities it engenders. But even though its criticism of Hollywood is admittedly heavy-handed, the movie is more satirical and the presentation of the cheap sect that constrains Sarah to prostitute herself (the sect represents temptation and the base instincts that lie dormant in Sarah) is resolutely symbolic. As for horror, it’s well rooted in reality, brutal and straightforward. The directors confide having been more influenced by the French trash horror wave (Frontier, Martyrs) and Polanski than by Lynch or Cronenbeg.
Starry Eyes is therefore a real little cluster bomb that has already had a lot of press since being shown in festivals. I would bet that the shock wave effect it produces isn’t about to stop.
English translation by Cameron Watson.