2017.10.07 // Filed under: Screen
Compared to July and August, September was a quiet month for movies watched round these parts. Mind you, two involved trips to the cinema as a paying punter, though one I regret spending those few euros on (see if you can guess which one).
I’m starting to think Adam Wingard pulled the wool over our eyes, and his breakthrough critical hits You’re Next and The Guest need some serious reassessment, because since then it’s been one dud after another. First was his ‘stealth’ sequel to The Blair Witch Project which I still haven’t mustered the enthusiasm to see. The latest is a US adaptation of the popular Japanese manga Death Note, which has already been translated into a decent anime (of what I can judge by seeing one episode so far) and a piss-poor live-action version (I switched it off after five minutes).
The usual caveats with compressing a long-running story into 90 minutes apply, but there’s something especially hamfisted about this one, and it’s not just the colander plot, which adds a twist of Macbeth to take the anti edge off the anti-hero. It’s style over substance, for sure, but not nearly stylish enough; the lunacy of the premise requires a kind of hyper-realism that Wingard at best only hints at, when it should be plastered all over the screen in the way Takashi Miike might do it. The slapped-on synthwave soundtrack is entirely misplaced, the film not having any other substantial retro referencing, and smacks of Wingard simply not knowing any other way to do it. One can’t rate the performances too poorly, though; the cast simply have little good to work with.
Apparently I watched this before, about five years ago, though I have zero recollection of having done so. No matter, I liked it better this time regardless. Just a solid, rollicking Spielbergian action flick for kids who don’t mind a bit of ‘mild peril’. Plus it’s the only film we got with both Kirsten Dunst and Robin Williams, which feels like a combo that could have been money in the succeeding years.
I can only presume there are complex funding reasons as to why this is set in Wales and not Ireland, since it’s clearly shot and produced here, and has an Irish writer/director. That’s my only serious complaint about what’s otherwise a thoroughly engrossing occult drama that does so much more with just two people in a big old house than you might expect. Steve Oram is particularly good as the gruff gnostic who’s seen some shit, man; his palpable frustration with his client Catherine Walker and her economy with the truth makes all the difference to a story that’s purely lurid EC Comics pulp on paper.
The allusions to Rosemary’s Baby so bold in the trailer are a red herring; indeed, the entire first half of the film, with its haunted house aesthetics, disorientating sound design and suffocatingly intimate framing, is but a diversion from what mother! really is: a satire of middle-aged creative malaise; of the existential trauma of celebrity; of the absurdities of Christian faith; of patriarchal abuse; of our relationship with the earth. Darren Aronofsky takes them all on, as the images on screen evolve (or devolve) into a magical realist fantasy somewhere between Jodorowsky, Bosch and the Bible. And yet, it’s a broader satire than what it pretends to be, which is a sticking point. Another is the utter lack of surprise in its supposedly mind-blowing ending. It left me… whelmed.
Everything happens – then nothing, for a very long time – then everything happens again. As 1970s paranoia thrillers go, this is definitely in the formative stages, pacing-wise. But there’s enough here to reward the patient, particularly in Douglas Trumbull’s trippy visuals.
Only a year later, George Lucas and his special effects mavens would make this picture look very, very old. And one wonders how much better it would be with the roles reversed, with Jenny Agutter as the ‘sandman’ forced to go on the run from a euthanasia-happy totalitarian society, and putty-faced Michael York as the damsel in tow. That doesn’t, however, take away from its strange hodge-podge charm, and the well-paced action of its chase/quest plot.
The Final Cut, this time, and again on a big screen (in the Light House). Those opening titles have to be seen in that context: this film’s got a power contemporary cinema can only dream of. Also, I’m more and more convinced that Roy Batty is the real protagonist, and the question of Deckard is a bluff. Which really puts the sequel (which I have no plans to see till it’s out on home video, at least) in a difficult position.