Director: David Slade
I’ve never read the original ’30 Days of Night’ comic, but the main hook is brilliant: what happens when vampires invade a small northern town just as a month of wintry darkness and isolation descends? This is a story that was made for film. Director David Slade (working with Steve Niles, the comic’s writer) has crafted an interesting, tense, and claustrophobic horror film filled with strong performances and some good shock and gore.
Slade takes his time with the set-up of the film, different narrative elements gradually building together piece by piece, helping to develop the characters and establish the setting. When the main thrust of the action does begin, it seems inevitable and inescapable. This film reminded me a lot of John Carpenter’s The Thing: both concern remote frozen settlements under attack by otherworldly beings and both deal with isolation and claustrophobia. However, The Thing deals mostly with paranoia (never knowing if the man standing next to you is really human), whereas 30 Days deals more with interpersonal relations under strain.
Technically, the film looks really interesting. Slade has an excellent eye for visuals and he crafts several genuinely frightening and tense sequences. The film’s (relatively) low budget lets it down at certain points, however: some of the establishing shots of the town are a littlle amateurish and there is obvious use of CG and miniatures. Those are minor quibbles, however, and generally the visuals are quite good. There are several continuity holes, however, perhaps remnants of deleted scenes or altered sequences. They aren’t really noticeable and actually help add to the disorientation created during the attack on the town.
The performances are all above average, with Josh Hartnett settling nicely into his new position of leading man. As well, following from his previous work in Hostage, Ben Foster seems eager to establish himself as the go-to guy for playing crazy bastards. His characterisation in 30 Days is borderline over-the-top but it seems to work.
It’s nice to see a straight-forward vampire film that manages to bring a fresh approach to an often tired genre. I’m not sure if the types of vampires seen in 30 Days are as revolutionary as everyone seems to believe, but I personally enjoyed them, all black eyes and gaping teeth, practically shark-like.
30 Days of Night shows that interesting films can be made from interesting comics and that horror films are made all the better by good writing and excellent direction.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Richard Linklater
Seven years from now, around one quarter of the American population is dependent on a powerful and highly addictive psychoactive drug known as Substance D. ‘Agent Fred’ (Keanu Reeves), an undercover police officer assigned to monitor a household of drug users, is also Bob Arctor, a member of that household whose girlfriend and dealer, Donna (Winona Ryder), is suspected of having links to the uppermost source of Substance D. So far, so simple, right? Er…
Robert Linklater’s much-anticipated adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel is, unsurprisingly, a little trippy in places. After all, we are being drawn into the world of a man whose consciousness is literally splitting in two and who is becoming increasingly incapable of even recognising the correlation between his two parallel identities. However, despite the often hilarious scenes featuring the paranoia, psychobabble and stoner logic of Arctor’s associates Freck, Luckman and Barris (Rory Cochrane, Woody Harrelson and a scene-stealing Robert Downey Jr.), it would be sheer folly to dismiss this film as simply being for and about the chemically-enhanced. If I were to liken it to anything it would be more classic film noir than Cheech and Chong, with prominent themes of corruption and betrayal and Arctor as the fundamentally-flawed hero trying to get to grips with something he can’t fully understand while being led to his ultimate demise by a femme fatale (although there is a rather clever twist to this that is pretty unexpected unless, unlike me, you’ve actually read the novel).
Much has been made of the fact that this film is rotoscoped, the live action film painstakingly traced by animators to give it a grown-up cartoon effect. This device certainly pays off and adds to the whole atmosphere of A Scanner Darkly, contributing to the sense of detachment and feeling that nothing is quite real or as it seems. It’s also strangely satisfying seeing the cast of familiar names in a new way and, on a more prosaic level, simplifies the inclusion of Dick’s ‘scramble suits,’ something that would have been incredibly difficult to create without big-budget CG effects.
Keanu Reeves is one of those actors that people seem to just love to criticise but, having seen this film, I find it hard to imagine Arctor being played by anyone else. Reeves’ characteristic lazy and laconic style fits the role perfectly and he can certainly do blank and bemused very well, making him ideal as an unwitting cog in a machine. The casting of actors who, in the majority of cases, have had highly-publicised dalliances with illegal substances is a very knowing move and slightly adds to the air of despair and inevitability that pervades a lot of the piece. That said, this film is not a depressing didactic on the dangers of drug abuse. A Scanner Darkly is rich, intelligent and compelling while also being entertaining and thus can be appreciated on a variety of levels.Maria Hall
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Standard rules of film criticism don’t tend to apply to the films of Shinya Tsukamoto. Controversial and groundbreaking from the start (with interesting and complex films such as Tetsuo), Tsukamoto’s work is always filled with difficult imagery and challenging themes. Constantly moving between avant garde and mainstream cinema, Tsukamoto focuses on issues of sexuality, gender and repression within Japanese society. A Snake of June is an interesting (if potentially problematic) snapshot of the lives of a “typical” Japanese couple and their encounters with a voyeuristic stranger.
I say problematic because the events in this film are either misogynistic or empowering, depending on your point of view. Tsukamoto offers no simple explanation because he deliberately seeks to provoke, to invite discussion on issues of sexual repression and identification in Japanese society. Perhaps tellingly, Tsukamoto places himself in the role of primary antagonist, playing the potentially dangerous voyeur who inserts himself into the lives of the Japanese couple. Rather than retreating behind the camera, Tsukamoto takes ownership of his position and attempts to highlight the inherently voyeuristic nature of cinema.
Though the film is filled with provocative images, A Snake of June never descends into titillation or gratuity. His use of stark blue-filtered black and white help to ground the film, lending it both realism and, somewhat ironically, surrealism. This dichotomy resurfaces in several bizarre voyeuristic sequences, seemingly from a different film. This mix of reality and surreality, a trademark of Tsukamoto’s films, serves to unnerve the viewer and helps to create a lasting impression.
Is this film misogynistic or does it promote female empowerment? Is it arguing for or against the loss of sexual identity in Japanese society? Though there are no easy answers offered in this challenging and often disturbing film, A Snake of June and director Tsukamoto are not afraid to ask difficult questions. After all, isn’t that the basis of interesting filmmaking?Colin Le Sueur
Director: Jonathan Levine
I have to admit, slasher films are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Watching horror films as a teen, slashers always seemed to provide the right mix of gore, sex and shocks my still-developing mind craved. When I began to study films, I felt secretly justified to discover how surprisingly complex the slasher film can be. When it comes to slasher films, even the worst of the worst have some interesting psychological quirk that usually make viewings bearable. Thankfully, there are still excellent slasher films being made these days and even some that manage to do something new.
Although this film is clearly in the slasher genre, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane never feels like a typical slasher film. The structure and pacing fits the established pattern but director Levine manages to keep things feeling fresh with interesting visuals and a terrific soundtrack. The look of this film is polished but not over-produced (a hard balance to find) and there’s enough good gore to please the genre fans without becoming gratuitous.
Amber Heard plays the title role fairly well with a good mix of girl-next-door and object of desire. The others do a decent job, with no-one particularly bad or good. As supporting characters they serve their roles well, increasing tension and threat as they’re systematically killed off around the main character.
This film helps to bring a little spark back to the fading slasher genre, a new take on an old story. Though not as revolutionary as some believe, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is entertaining, scary and sexy and makes me love the slasher genre even more.Colin Le Sueur