Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence (Tom Six, 2011)

"Maybe he's connecting the pain that a centipede inflicts with the pain inflicted on him through use of psychological and sexual abuse by his father."


There was a point whereby I openly admitted that I would never watch this film. I knew about the sandpaper and the staple-gun, so I felt that there is a line you draw and you say no. But, people talk about it and it becomes a bit of an apple-on-the-knowledge-tree. I couldn’t judge it until I saw it and I couldn’t truly believe the horror unless I sat through it. Then Flickering Myth, a site I write for put up a request for a contributor to review it. It didn’t cost me a penny and might be a fun night. I was fearful about what I would see but, with friends, we watched. My god, what a disappointment. It could’ve been an obvious-fear-story … it could’ve been a direct sequel to the previous instalment. In many ways, it should’ve been. Seriously, I could create a better story myself. It was an example – and you need this once in a while – of a film I don’t like and what I believe cinema is not about. Maybe I knew this from the outset, but it’s good to sometimes clarify your position on cinema.'

Detached Progression (Human Centipede II)
As hinted at before, the open-ended finale of The Human Centipede (First Sequence) gave the impression of some-sort of scope for a sequel. Tom Six, creatively, detaches the film completely from a continuing narrative in The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) by constructing a story that depicts a character, Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), who is obsessed with the first film. At this stage, it is worth noting that I viewed the UK-version released on Blu-Ray. In that regard, key-scenes are omitted: the death of a baby and a rape using barbed-wire were two of the 32 cuts the BBFC made to the film.
From the very first few minutes, we are in a different world. Unlike the European flavour of the prior film, THC2 is set primarily in a car park and a council-flat. The tone therefore shifts to become almost an attempt at realism, shot in a pseudo-intelligent black-and-white palette. The complete switch from the rural context of the previous film is switched to an urban, London environment – but an urban world that has very few people within it, except for those who Martin comes into contact with. Tom Six has claimed that this huge change in tone is due to the films perspective – the first film presented from the perspective of Dr. Hieter, and the second in Martin’s dingy and dirty world.
So Bad it’s Bad
It truly is a train-wreck of a film. Conversations that it is the ‘worst-film’ of all-time are not without reason – but it is not due to the violence and horror that is presented. It seems as if Tom Six completely lost what people enjoyed about the first film. He almost mocks any type of critical-analysis of the first film as a character attempts to deconstruct the obsession Martin has with the film. This, by its attempt at psycho-analysis almost asks viewers to take the film more seriously than mere horror. Conversations, by actors of a low-standard, discuss child-abuse, psychology and the mental illness Martin has. To make matters worse, Martin is virtually mute – only relying on strange laughter, his crying and guttural noises to indicate whatever is going on in his mind.
We have no sympathy or understanding towards his victims as they are purely portrayed as victims and nothing more. You imagine the girls in the previous film – and the humanisation of the two as they prepare for a night-out, then get lost and walk to the house, etc. In THC2, victims appear and are kidnapped. For example, in one sequence a prostitute is kidnapped and, mid-kidnapping, the scene cuts to him placing the body in the van (Another cut scene maybe?) so that the only element of interest – How did he kidnap her? – is completely negated for a scene of him driving a van. The film became an experience simply to sit through – I didn’t know who the people really were; I didn’t care about what they were doing; I did not feel any element of tension as to what this man was ‘capable’ of. We understand he is horrible – to the point that when we hear a baby crying in one kidnapping, it’s not surprising. Of course the introduction of an infant in such a film was inevitable. The cuts scenes I am aware of would only add to the unnecessary, irrelevant scenes of torture and pain Martin creates.
On a personal note, I watched both films as a double-viewing alongside my brother. Following the screening, he noted how it almost came across as simply ‘attention-seeking’. I couldn’t put it better myself. As an example of this, the only element of colour follows a sequence as he injects each part of the human centipede with laxative and consequently, we see faeces burst through the staple-gunned mouth-to-anus and on the screen. Coloured brown. No rhyme or reason – simply grotesque for the sake of horror.
Shock-Value or Worse?
You could easily blame the cheap ‘shock-value’ as the core problem of the film but this isn’t the main area of concern. The problem lies in how the film virtually has no context of a world that Martin lives within; it has no characterisation to Martin as he has mental-issues and doesn’t talk. As the world and characters are so empty and silent it limits any type of bigger scope for Tom Six to work within. The positive reviews (and there are a few from Bloody Disgusting and New York Post) seem to highlight how THC2 is a response to the criticism of the first film. [SPOILERS] The ambiguous ending of THC2 gives the impression that maybe Martin himself imagined the events of the entire film – is there a hint of an idea that horror films are what you make of them? Opposed to the argument that horror-films are an excuse or scape-goat for the ills in society.
I’m not keen on adhering to that perspective as the film does not set-up anything to imply that this theory is justified; Tom Six could’ve tacked on the ending as an after-thought. The fact remains that Martins job is surveillance as a car park attendant. He observes on monitors the everyday life of other people – so it is worth noting how Tom Six himself worked for Endemol and on TV productions including Big Brother. The pleasure to be found in obsessing and, even eroticising, people and characters who potentially have a weakness, naivety or misplaced-arrogance in their own appearance on screen connects well with Tom Six himself – and leads itself well into an argument regarding the depiction of ‘normal’ people that reality TV can often celebrate. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is misplaced arrogance and celebrates a type of filmmaking that lacks any artistic credibility whatsoever; much like reality TV itself.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Human Centipede I: First Sequence (Tom Six, 2009)

"I'll explain this spectacular operation only once"


Two films which have garnered huge attention in pop-culture are Tom Six’s ever-increasing-in-length The Human Centipede series (The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) is in production). Either you assign yourself to a camp of horrified film-fans; How can a film like this be made? What an offensive and deeply unsettling idea! Etc. The second option is a camp whereby you look to the films as a strange anomaly – equally intrigued and disgusted by the ideas, but interested nevertheless. Or you are in the third camp whereby this type of B-Movie, sub-standard, ‘shock’-Horror film viewing is what is ideal for a night-in with friends. As an interesting aside, my decision to watch the films (I sit in the second camp) had criticisms from one group of film-writers who were shocked at my decision to watch the films in the first place; How can I watch F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise one day and then watch this the next? Then I had a different group of film-writers who, by the same token, were equally shocked – but because it was a niche-genre; one which they pride themselves on their own in-depth knowledge of. In both cases, the decision to watch the film on my part is a strange one – but why not? A film represents the filmmaker and, if successful, it represents an interest on the part of the audience. What is it that has drawn viewers to this film – is it merely the shock value or something more?

The B-Movie ‘Human Centipede’

The trappings of a B-Movie are evident from the very start in The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Small cast, young-and-attractive teenagers lost on a road-trip … they approach a strange house which, we already know, contains a sinister character. So far, so-very “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. The story rolls along with such an obvious narrative, you feel as if the idea of ‘The Human Centipede’ came first and the story later. I can imagine Tom Six sitting at a laptop realising that the ‘shock’ idea of a ‘Human Centipede’ would be fascinating in-and-of itself – the story surrounding it would be more difficult. Indeed, the release in 2010 of the ‘first sequence’ is hot-on-the-heels of Saw and the various films of the torture-porn genre. Unlike many (but not all) of these films, The Human Centipede is set primarily in one house and the clinical implements are highlighted from the outset. The vast majority of the ‘horror’ comes from what we know he has, does and will do. We don’t see anything explicitly. In that regard, the film is intelligent as it hints at the surgeon-like precision that Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) clearly excels in.

In 2012, it even predates the exceptional skill of Antonio Banderas’ doctor in The Skin I Live In and could be influenced by the twin brothers in Cronenbergs body-horror Dead Ringers. In both cases, we are horrified by the insanity of their genius – Banderas using his skin-grafting skills for evil; Jeremy Irons using their gynaecological knowledge to create ‘gynaecological instruments for mutant women’. We look at the clinical implements in the room with horror as we understand what they do – but do not see them in use. We definitely don’t see their use-of-purpose. In The Human Centipede, we don’t see his skill in merging each human together; we don’t see the attachment between anus and mouth. We do see his exquisite explanation of what he will do – and a child-like drawing to clarify, before they wake up connected. By that point, the camera would have to be in a pretty strange position to clearly show the stitched-up connection.

A Fear of Foreigners

Akin to Hostel, the fear of foreigners may play a part too.  Therefore the characterisation is something to explore further; is the nationality of the characters purposeful? Is Dr. Heiter preying on a deeply-rooted, but archaic, fear of Nazi-Germany, and the experiments within concentration camps? Are the two lead females purely selected for their target-market appeal; the attractive-women running in fear from the monster? Is the Asian character who leads the centipede chosen purely for his lack of communication-skills, as he speaks a different language? These are all possibilities. I could even theorise that it is a representation of a European feeding off, and abusing, the Asian-American combined-power, as the victims initially reached the continent with only token gestures of respect towards European culture and economic stability. It’s a huge step, granted – but interesting to consider nevertheless.

Despite the obvious expectations of the film, it ultimately seems to create a story whereby we are engaged by the mad-doctor and we are equally voyeurs in watching how the film will end: do they survive? How can they survive? An ambiguous ending leaves the film in an enviable position as it could continue. Key-characters fail to survive, but the question remains as to how the character remaining will continue their life. I would be hard-pushed to recommend it – but if you are after a fun night-in with some obvious thrills and shocks, alongside a gross-idea acted out, then by all means; hunt the film out.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Sunrise: A Song of Two Human (F.W. Murnau, 1927)

"Don't be afraid of me!"
After reflecting on the technical prowess of Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, we now move onto F.W. Murnaus Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Crucially, Sunrise came at a time whereby the sound era was due to hit Hollywood, eroding all the hard-work established by the industry since Thomas Edison. Sunrise represents the pinnacle of the Silent Era – overshadowing the work of Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffiths. In Sight & Sound, Isabel Stevens notes how “a vote for Sunrise is a vote, of course, for a lost world”. Indeed, the irony in a title such as ‘Sunrise’, signifying the dawning of a new day, could not be more relevant – as it was the sound era that would change cinema forever following the release of The Jazz Singer in the same year.
The City Girl
On the surface, the film could easily slip into melodrama, as the story reflects a love-story between a man and his wife as they struggle within married life. The couple live within the country when the man falls for a woman from the city. The temptress tells him of the world she comes from; they fantasize about the possible future in a stunning use of layering. The bottom third shows the two looking to the sky, which then transforms into the city-streets and neon-lights. And she convinces him to murder his wife by drowning her in the river. He builds himself up to commit the crime but, wracked with guilt, he cannot do it. She becomes afraid, aware of his intent – before the two rekindle their love in the city.
The narrative itself progresses with a swift pace as a film could, and does, today. The techniques, innovative for their time, are used to great effect to ensure that the momentum of the story is not lost. In the initial set-up, we are shown in flashback the ‘happier times’ which the married couple had. This subtle plot-point informs you of the romance and tragic outcome of their marriage. You sympathise with the man as he has fallen out of love with his wife – but you can see that his wife has not lost hope in him. The characters are fully fleshed out – their challenges, difficulties and hopes are realised forcing you to truly root for them when they witness a Wedding and emotionally ‘remarry’ to begin a new life together.

Girl Interrupted at Her Music by Vermeer
The Influenced and the Influencer
In terms of the silent era, akin to many films of the time, the influences hark back further than cinema. In the case of Sunrise, there is a clear connection to the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ in the mid 1600's and, specifically the work of Vermeer, whose work often consisted of domestic-scenes within middle-class society. The man and woman seem to be of a similar ilk, whereby they clearly can support their child with a carer (though, without a clear description, it could be a relative). The couple own a farm, but have sold off many animals so it might be fair to consider their status as ‘lower’ middle-class. This social facet is not a major issue within the film, and the relationship with Vermeer is primarily within the composition and framing of each shot in the context of a village; Country women gossip about the couple; animals move across the frame under expressive-lighting.

Indeed, expressive lighting also relates the film to the German Expressionists that Murnau was affiliated with. His move to Hollywood in 1926 followed an extremely successful period whereby he directed Nosferatu and Faust. The use of lighting to gain a sense of expression directly feeds back to this time period in addition to a clear correlation between the role of the ‘City Girl’ and ‘Nosferatu’ as both characters lurk in the shadows and command our attention with outstretched arms and black-costume.

Following Sunrise, I am sure that the middle-act of the couple re-establishing their love influenced Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow, a film which portrays an old-age couple reigniting their romance by walking around New York; visiting bars and venues which they recalled when they were on their honeymoon. Both couples reflect on their lives together and are aware of the lack of time they had given each other. In Sunrise, the couple are younger and we see the birth of a child stalling their romance. Whilst in Make Way For Tomorrow, it is the long-period of raising their children that has stopped them from committing to a holiday sooner. Though Make Way for Tomorrow was made a full-decade later, I am sure the success critically in Hollywood for Sunrise surely reached McCarey.
The Timelessness
I could state further influences; the city-girl in a ghost-like use of multi-layer tempts and haunts the man in his life akin to Teddy Daniel’s dreams in the outstanding Shutter Island; the hustle and bustle of the city seems to capture the mood that, in full colour would be reminiscent of Breakfast at Tiffany’s as Hepburn and Peppard walk the streets. The list goes on, with a “shadow looming” over films including Citizen Kane and Beauty and the Beast (from 1946) according to Joshua Klein. In terms of technique, in one instance Murnau manages to catch a state of bliss as the lovers walk through a city staring into each other’s eyes as the streets magically dissolve into a scenic, peaceful countryside, before re-emerging in the city and literally stopping traffic. These stylistic shots were ground-breaking. Crane shots as the camera glides from above in a continuous movement as we enter the fairground remains influential today whilst the dripping text for the title-cards could have marked a moment whereby text-on-screen was shown to be so much more than mere description or dialogue. Crucially, these techniques showed Murnau’s confidence and skill as he won over the hearts of a Hollywood that continued to grow. Fox must’ve been proud of their investment in Murnau.
Unfortunately Sunrise was a box-office failure on its release, but it garnered many awards – including one of the very-first Oscars. In 1927, the Academy Awards had two awards that eventually became the prestigious ‘Best Picture’. Originally, the two categories were for ‘Production’ and ‘Unique and Artistic Production’. Sunrise won the latter (Oscar-Movie buffs will note that Wings won ‘Production’). Mark Cousins, in The Story of Film commends the “poetic force” of Sunrise and truly, this is what has held the film in such high regard. Cousins notes how “Master, Vidor and Rey, already considered… the contrasting values of country and the city” but, even in 2012, it had not captured this with such beauty and clarity – invoking the gentleness of Vermeer and the bold elements of German Expressionism.
In many ways, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans definitively marked the end of the silent era and you can see from this film alone why many believed that the use of sound was a ‘fad’. This type of poetic-beauty could not be recreated for many years to come – indeed you could ask the question; Has this type of beauty ever been recreated? You only need to watch it to decide, because it is not an easy question to answer.

Best Episode of The Simpsons? Season 9: Girly Edition

In an attempt to get completely up-to-date on one of my favourite TV-series The Simpsons, after I watch each season, I will choose my favourite episode...

When I decided which episode would become my favourite of the series it was an easy choice. Despite my fandom of U2, their appearance in Trash of the Titans is the only highlight (“Wanker”). The episode centred around Ralph Wiggum, This Little Wiggy, should've been brilliant, but missed the cut. Even an episode utilising Jim Varney and good ol' Cletus, in Bart Carny, should've been better but again didn't hit the mark. The season also kicks off with The City of New York vs Homer Simpson, a rare episode that is not often on TV as it is primarily situated at the base of the Twin Towers - Homer even manages to have his car clamped in between the two buildings. Jokes abound as he runs up both towers for the toilet and he witnesses staff from the South tower argue across to those in the North tower (Something the writers regret). It is a strange watch.

But Girly Edition pre-dates Anchorman as it pokes fun at the news-industry. Lisa wants to be the intelligent reporter as Bart is the sensationalist – even Milhouse has a small role informing kids how to get rid of urinated-on bed-sheets. This is, in turn, supported by a sub-plot whereby Homer has a monkey. The pure randomness of this subplot makes for great laughs too.

As an interesting aside, writer Larry Doyle (of Looney Tunes: Back in Action and I Love You Beth Cooper) wrote the episode – and it is the first of only seven he wrote. In that regard, it feels a little different. Additionally, Eric Stefani (brother of Gwen) had to be called back to the show to help animate the sequences between Homer and the monkey too. So strange – it only seems perfect that the monkeys last lines are equally obscure as he writes – “pray for Mojo” on a computer.

So, my favourite-sequence is not only memorable for such perfect timing – but it also introduced the Cat-Lady to the world. (And, luckily, there is a YouTube video of it too!)

Lisa: They call her the cat lady, people say she's crazy just because she has a few-dozen cats. But can anyone who loves animals that much really be crazy?
[Lady gets out of house, sees Lisa, and starts throwing cats at her, and chasing her]

Lisa: The old Union Pacific doesn't come by here much anymore.
[Train comes past, displaying the words 'Union Pacific' on each of the 30 or so carriages, when the train fully gets past, the lady with the cats is there, still chasing here]

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, 22 October 2012

After Lucia (Michel Franco, 2012)



Director Michel Franco broke out in 2009 with a small indie-hit Daniel & Ana. His follow-up, After Lucia, has garnered huge critical acclaim through winning the Prize Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film festival and receiving the Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize at the Chicago International Film festival. At the London Film festival it was in competition but, late last night, it was revealed that Rust and Bone took the prize. The film has also been selected as Mexico’s entry for the Academy Awards so we have yet to see whether the film will continue to take awards between now and February. After Lucia introduces Father and Daughter, Roberto (Hernán Mendoza) and Alejandra (Tessa Ía), as they travel to begin a new life in Mexico City following the death of Roberto’s wife, Lucia, who died in a car accident.

Reality Bites
The opening sequence establishes a pace that doesn’t stop throughout the film as we see, from a static-camera inside a car, the Father pick up the car which has had a wide range of alterations before he drives away, parks the car, and leaves. The sequence lasts at least seven minutes and, as soon as he leaves the garage, you feel like something will break the tension. Akin to Little White Lies, it crossed my mind that someone may crash into him – or could he crash into someone else? Neither happens and, as noted, he merely drives away, parks the car and walks away.
This type of observation is what Franco utilises throughout the film as we are often situated behind characters, following and observing their movements. We think about where they are going and what they are doing. And Roberto is a character who is reserved and thoughtful – a man of few words. Alejandro, nicknamed ‘Ale’, is equally quiet and patient. Both are content on their own and, without a score or soundtrack, this creates an atmosphere that is rooted in realism - but also in the inevitable tropes of art house and indie cinema. Shots linger on characters on sofas; they look into the mid-distance. Car-journeys are long with questions that characters ask – but are given a mute-response, forcing us, as a viewer, to think about why no answer is given.

Extreme Bullying
The core-narrative revolves around Alejandro’s horrendous experience at school. She becomes the victim of bullying after she has sex with a boy in the group. He records the incident on his mobile phone (drawing parallels with the phone-footage showing the smashed-car which killed her mother) and circulates it around his friends. Consequently, she is taunted, molested, physically abused and raped. As a secondary school teacher, inevitably I found this entire story absolutely appalling. Why does she not tell the teachers? How can students be so brash – without any children even attempting to intervene? Why do the students go on a school trip whereby staff do not even check students in the evening; as students drink, smoke and make-out “under the supervision” of teachers. Even in the final few scenes, teachers would meet questions with blank expressions and no answers. This, I believe, is not representative of my profession and – as education is not the focus of the film – I believe this mishandling of the context is grossly exaggerated and ineffective. The sequences play-out more to shock, rather than investigating the reality of bullying.
The focus is her isolation and loneliness – her inability to express herself or turn to someone when she is in need. We hear how she was offered psychological support but her Father turned it down; she claimed her Mother was teaching her how to drive (Was she responsible for her mother’s death?). Therefore, this leads you to consider whether her decision to not involve anyone, or turn to anyone, may be rooted in a self-destructive attitude. Does her guilt weigh so heavy on her mind that she sees the bullying as penance for, what she believes, is her sins? Whether this is the case or not, akin to the ending of the film, it is unclear and unfulfilling.

Closure and Clarification
A story that is set-up as a film coping with loss and mourning can easily slip into an almost-cliché camp of indie-film expectations. Ambiguous scenes, unexplained set-ups and a slow-and-steady pace lends itself well to a film attempting to analyse the after-effects of loss; indeed, I can only imagine the frustration and timelessness you could feel when coping with the loss of a loved one. But in cinema, we have seen this before – and sometimes a little clarity would assist in the audience gaining closure. So that when we leave the cinema, we can reflect on the film personally without having to seek clarification for plot-points. We surely shouldn't be seeking clarification regarding the purpose of the film itself.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

"This Experimental Work Aims at Creating a Truly International Absolute Language of Cinema"


In many discussions regarding the Sight and Sound 'Top 10', it was a fair point that films such as Birth of a Nation, Sherlock Jr and Battleship Potemkin were not included in the Top 10 itself. Cineastes would explain how you couldn’t ignore D.W. Griffiths technical skill and Buster Keaton’s wit. You cannot dismiss the use of editing within Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. In all cases, until I saw Man with a Movie Camera, I would happily argue that they all showed innovative techniques that paved the way for the future, thus establishing a higher position. But in terms of the vast quantity of techniques and the purposeful sense of experimentaion, Man with a Movie Camera surpasses them all. Technically, this film experiments in every possible way. This is a film which, if you hold any interest in filmmaking, you can appreciate what Dziga Vertov is trying to do. In the opening credits, he admits that the film does not include a ‘scenario’ nor ‘characters’; but what the film does include is huge, concerted effort to capture the love, joy and passion of filmmaking. This is clearly what prompted critics to celebrate its importance to cinema.

'Building the Revolution' by Popova
Russian Constructivism

In terms of context, the film clearly explores the politics of the time. The film holds itself to a Marxist ideology and celebrates the hard-labour necessary of a Russian citizen. Though there is no ‘story’, the film depicts the expected day-to-day life of a citizen from waking in the morning, through the work-practices, commute to work and overview of the city itself. We see the city empty as very few people roam the streets – and the cameraman (directors brother Mikhail Kaufman), on his own, travelling. As the film progresses, the streets get busier and we see the various feats accomplished by man. Look at the wondrous plane take off whilst the trams happily take employees to and from their place of work.

But through the context of industrial and commercial enterprises- whether it be men in the mines or women at the cashier – the visual connection is clear. Akin to the posters created by the Stenberg brothers for the film itself, the shots are composed to evoke the Russian Constructivist movement, as shown by Popova and Rodchenko; artists recently celebrated at the Tate Modern in London. Sharp diagonal lines cut across many sequences – as factories are shown on a slant and steely faces, covered in soot, work tirelessly. This is a strong film - confident and bold in its goals.


But, to a modern eye, this perspective is limited – and the glue that holds the film together is through the ‘character’ of the filmmaker. Viewing the film in 2012, you realise that Vertov must be filming another cameraman who is, in turn, creating their own film. The sense of control and perspective is integral to the loose ‘plot’ that you could create surrounding the film. We, the audience, are viewing someone’s perspective of a regime and city that, clearly, they deem exceptional and celebratory. But, akin to the barrage of inversed-filmmaking that we have seen recently (dreams within dreams in Inception; a sense of observing, obsessing and execution of oneself in Looper) - it seems filmmakers clearly enjoy the ‘meta’ level of filmmaking in this modern age; characters and stories are almost self-aware. Man with a Movie Camera is, as a documentary, recording and reflecting on itself through the film. As it explores the various filmmaking techniques, you cannot help but wonder whether the film is almost acknowledging the manipulative nature of filmmaking, and therefore its relevance to todays cinema is even more pronounced.

In addition to this sense of self-awareness, Man with a Movie Camera also shows the cameraman as a voyeur. He watches a woman sleep; the eye roams across the body, highlighting curves and creases. The same masculine-eye seems present later on too as we see a woman remove her stockings and bra – before, shortly after, showing a curvaceous woman rowing and then a different woman on a horse-riding machine. A day at the beach reveals topless women applying mud to themselves. Another technique of filmmaking as he, directly and indirectly, references sexuality and the lustful eye.

Music Video of the 20’s?

There is no apology for this manipulation; it surely is a documentary ‘documenting’ Moscow, Odessa and Kiev. But sequences that show the creation of cigarette boxes are simply fascinating in their organisation and composition. The sequences, edited together flawlessly by Vertov’s wife Elizaveta Svilova, are akin to a dance-music video as the pulsating percussion (from the soundtrack provided by the Alloy Orchestra in 1995, taken from Vertov’s notes) adds rhythm, urgency and pace to a sequence that, alongside a slower soundtrack (‘In The Nursery’ has a provided a soundtrack with less pace, but feels more ‘reflective’),would simply not give such a strong sense of importance to the assembly-line. This truly is the complete opposite to the depiction of the assembly-line in Modern Times. Vertov shows us how effective hard-labour is – and the necessity of it - opposed to Chaplin's criticism of hard-labour.

This is a masterpiece, and when I first began the film I was wary. I knew very little of this film – let alone my lack of knowledge regarding Soviet Cinema. I didn’t know how I would approach the film – would it drag? Could I truly appreciate the context? But honestly, at only 70-minutes long, you would have to be incredibly impatient to struggle during a viewing. Vertov employs such a broad range of camera manoeuvres and styles that every shot is an art piece unto itself - and a cinematic art piece at that. He shows static-shots, photographs, before showing the practical-editing that bring the film-reels to life. We see split shots that distort and change how a building is percieved. We see a plane, pre-figuring the use of widescreen - whilst we will then see the view when looking through two trams, making the focus become exceptionally slim and difficult to see.

I will end with a reference to a brief overview written by Russian-Film academic Josephine Woll: "A glourious tribute to everything that movie-making can be". To think that a film - an experiment no less - can be so influential, inspirational and important speaks for itself. One sequence attempts to imitate the movement of the eye - cutting between an eye/pair of eyes moving and the camera moving up and around in imitation. It doesn't work - and proves that cinema is not simply imitating the eye; it delves much deeper, and the multitude of techniques Vertov uses emphasises how much deeper film could go ... and indeed it did.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012)

"I liked being watched..."

Jacques Audiard completely shook the foundations of the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 when A Prophet competed against Michael Hanekes The White Ribbon. A Prophet won the Grand Prix whilst The White Ribbon took the Palme D'Or. This year, we are in a similar position whereby Audiards Rust and Bone is released the same year as Amour – Hanekes latest film. Amour won the Palme D'Or whilst Rust and Bone left Cannes with nothing.

Dangerous Creatures

Rust and Bone, unlike the sprawling A Prophet, is a personal story centred around two characters; Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is violent, lacks effective parenting skills and ignores the expectations of the law and Stephanie (Marion Coitillard), an Orca Whale trainer who is a victim to a freak accident when a Marineland Orca Whale show goes wrong. Within the first thirty minutes, Stephanie loses her legs and incredible special effects win you round to accept Coitillard as an amputee. She swims and uses a wheelchair – shots are so natural and fluid, that you constantly ask yourself how Audiard and Coitillard managed to perfectly capture the reality of the situation she is in. If you didn’t believe she had lost her legs, the film would surely lose its credibility in the opening act.

Thankfully, it doesn’t. Both Schoenaerts and Coitillard deliver performances that are utterly convincing. The initial opening portrays Ali with his child, Sam (Armand Verdure), on a train eating the leftovers from other commuters. Is he a tramp? Is this a twisted, less-Apocalyptic version of The Road? Appearances are deceptive as both Father and Son have escaped to his Sisters home to provide a safe haven for the child, we are told. When we first see Stephanie, she has been assaulted in a club and Ali intervenes to protect her. The parallel between the Orca whales and Ali are immediate; Ali’s imposing and dominant figure, his soft-voice though alluring hides an aggressive edge that, when cornered, will attack. We see it first-hand as he assaults his own Son.

Outstanding Performances

Though stealing every scene she is in, Coitillard is not the centre of the story (though I wish she was), it is about Ali. It is Ali who is strengthened by Stephanie – we see him in an illegal street-fight and, at the point whereby he is struggling to defeat his opponent, it is Stephanie who emerges and inspires him to rise-up and win. Stephanie’s personal struggle to cope with her disability is supported by Ali, but in turn, she supports him. She likes the attention and she craves his passing-desires – but he, in turn, sees her physical challenge as an impetus to succeed.

The Channel Four coverage of the Paralympics 2012 broke many boundaries as we became comfortable with disability – specifically the comedy-show The Last Leg, managed to break down stereotypes and assumptions the general public may have towards those with a disability. Rust and Bone manages to highlight how limited that perspective truly is as Stephanie is clearly stronger than Ali. We see Stephanie build her life and re-establish who she is after an event which could force you to turn to suicide (Indeed she considers it). Ali, in the process of supporting her, ignores his own child and places himself ahead of his own Son time and time again; he directly affects his Sisters life too, only threatening her when confronted.

This is a film which manages to capture the arrogance of humans –whilst also showing the struggles people can overcome. Audiard has created a film that, through multiple watches, I’m sure will provide more scope and depth than it initially lets on – but on a first viewing, I can commend what it attempts and I would recommend viewing the film for Marion Coitillard’s performance alone.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)

"I am the police, I'm here to arrest you, you've broken the law. I did not write the law, I may disagree with the law but I will enforce it. "

Daniel Barber’s 2009 thriller Harry Brown begins as we see phone-camera footage held by youths on a London estate. The video speeds round, as the owner is sat on a motorbike, and the gang-members threaten a woman with her child before accidentally (?) shooting her and then speeding off before the motorbike riders are hit by a truck. The footage represents the story which is about to begin but, on a first-watch, it is easy to believe it is actual footage which shocks you to the core. Does this happen? Has it happened already? How can we live in a world whereby this is possible? It is this same shock and horror you feel when watching End of Watch.
At the front of the Action
Unlike Harry Brown, whereby the film begins more conventionally after the introduction, End of Watch remains committed to the found-footage element as street cop Taylor (Gyllenhaal) introduces himself and narrates the story before presenting us with an unspecified, but considerable, length of time in the company of himself and Zavala (Michael Peña), his partner as they patrol X13, a district which is initially new to them. By the end of the film, they know much more about this area. They know about the Mexican drug cartels which operate. They learn about the power of Big Evil (Maurice Compte), a major drug-lord. They realise how much danger lurks behind the street corners and curb-side gangs that infest the area.
It is easy to assume that the found-footage element is merely a fashionable filmmaking technique – akin to Cloverfield, Chronicle and Paranormal Activity. But it is much more – harking back to TV-programmes such as Police, Camera, Action! whereby the camera sits at the front of the car as it speeds between houses and estates. End of Watch surpasses the usual tropes of found-footage as it makes a point about the use of surveillance and use of videos in the modern world. Indeed, though Taylor carries a camera “for a project”, the Mexican gang-members also carry their own cameras and we are even privy to surveillance caught by Immigration Control of conversations which relate to the district the two police officers work within. But we also realise that director David Ayer doesn’t constrain himself to the ‘footage’ caught by these characters as we are often a third person as we witness Taylor and his girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick) kiss at the end of a date and pan around the couple as they fall on the bed. We know Ayer wants to highlight the reality of the profession but doesn’t want to cut-out the personal stories that hide behind the badge for the sake of a technique – it is a bold move, but it pays off as the performances of the lead characters Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez is hugely convincing and deeply satisfying. Not for a single second do you think of Gyllenhaal as a Prince of Persia. It is more akin to his skin-head role in Jarhead than of anything he has ever shown us before; Could an Oscar nomination be around the corner? I hope so.
The title, End of Watch, refers to a euphemism used in the force to describe an officer/officers killed in the line of duty so it is timely that this film, with a tragic outcome, comes so soon after the shocking story regarding the murder of Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, Police Constables of Manchester. We are shown how challenging and difficult this job truly is – especially in poverty-stricken areas such as South L.A.
Ayer doesn’t shy away from the ambiguous morals Police Officers are expected to have and, akin to Training Day (written by Ayer), we spend a huge amount of time inside the police vehicle with the cops as they discuss the profession. Zavala’s wrestling and fighting with African-American Tre (Cle Shaheed Sloan) – an act which garners him respect and, as Tre tells him “keepin’ it ‘G’” – isn’t the same as Denzel Washington forcing Ethan Hawke to smoke drugs, though it does question what police officers need to do to gain the trust and respect of those in troubled areas. In a world post-The Wire, it is easy to pass this off as another imitation cashing in on David Simon’s successful TV series. This is much more – it is a shining example of the amazing career of the police officer. The hugely important role they play in society and the ignorance others have when even considering the profession to be an easy job. This is a job that is akin to the military – these men are on the front line and deserve every ounce of respect we can offer. Blistering performances and flawless direction leave you shocked and amazed at the end of the film: Is this the reality of law-enforcement?
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Frankenweenie (Tim Burton, 2012)

"I'd welcome death"


Tim Burton is a filmmaker who seems to dip in and out of public acceptance. On the one day he is praised for his iconic films such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Batman. On the next day he is mocked and ridiculed for his reliance on Johnny Depp and wife Helena Bonham-Carter in films such as Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland. I am happy to report that Frankenweenie falls into the former camp - and could be one of my favourite Tim Burton films.
Using the voice-talents of Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau, Martin Short and Winona Ryder, Frankenweenie tells the story of a school-boy named Victor (Charlie Tahan), who aspires to be a filmmaker himself. In true Burton fashion, he is socially awkward and has few friends - instead, relying on his dog Sparky to provide company. Shortly into the film, Sparky dies and Victor - inspired by his strange teacher - manages to bring Sparky back to life, much to the shock of his friends and family. Frankenweenie is a Disney film and, with this in mind, becomes a unique specimen when placing it within the Disney animated canon. A black-and-white film about death is hardly Snow White. Indeed, the film is a remake of a 30-minute film Burton made in 1984 and, viewers of animated TV series Family Dog (a Brad Bird creation, executively produced by Burton in 1993) may notice a suprising similarity with the lead characters. This is a tale which has been close to Burton's heart for decades and, you can see, how his love for cinema too bursts off the screen in 3D.

A Love for Filmmaking
From the opening sequence, it feels as if something is referenced. The Toy Story sequence that begins the film appears more as nostalgia rather than imitiation. The joy of cinema and fun of filmmaking is celebrated throughout - live-action Dracula plays on the TV in Victor's household, Bambi (another Disney film very-much about death and moving-on) plays at the local cinema. Godzilla, Jurassic Park and Gremlins all feel as if they are acknowledged in the final act.

This is a story about filmmaking and, as you hear the clicking and winding of a film reel, you realise that the death of the dog represents the death of film itself, in a digital age. In this regard, the film joins Scorseses Hugo, JJ Abrams Super 8 and Hazanavicius' The Artist as it harks, and weeps for what cinema used to be. Victor edits the film by cutting-and-sticking shots together, not using an Apple iMac. The world is a balance between Gothic and Suburban - and Edward Scissorhands himself could easily live in the same area. Burton has made a film in Disney Digital 3D, mourning the loss of traditonal filmmaking. Then again, as a character says: "I'd welcome death", maybe he is celebrating the death of film and praising the future of a new medium.

Belief in Burton

The film is not without it's faults as Danny Elfman's score seems to echo many themes and riffs from his score for Batman and Batman Returns. In addition, buried deep in the film, is an argument regarding the challenge between faith and belief against the cold, mechanical research required of a scientist. Victor is a scientist at heart - but he loves his dog so much that literally brings him back to life. I would like to believe that multiple-viewings may flesh out this potentially-profound element to the film - but it could be the case that there is simply inconsistency in a theme that is weakly explored.

I strongly recommend this film as it truly does show Burton at his best. Filmmakers and film-fans should all be exceptionally satisfied as Burton seems to be in his element combining his artistry and knowledge of cinema to create a film that, I believe, will not be forgotton. As an opener to the London Film festival it is richly deserved - and I can only wait with baited breath, to see whether Burton can continue this success with another fine film in the future. Mr Burton - my faith in you has been restored.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Paranormal Activity 2 (Tod Williams, 2010)

"I don't know if the house is haunted, but I hope it is"


It is one thing if a film is a success - but if you have a film which is a success and cost next-to-nothing, believe me, the studio is happy. Yeah, sure, they will double the budget. How much will it be now?  $30,000 rather than the previous films $15,000? Instead, the budget rose to $3,000,000. Where did all that go? Did they build the house from scratch? I'll bet Katie and Micah got paid twice-as-much for their cameos than anything recieved for the first film. But, with Saw at this point past the fifth-film, and continuing to take in a profit, the filmmakers didn't want to do a Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows and destroy the series completely. They had to tread carefully and, indeed they did, ensuring that the sequel was faithful to it's predescessor and also upping the stakes with thematic resolutions. Unlike the previous film, it was clear that this film had a defined theme: Greed.

Childhood and the Future

To set the scene, Paranormal Activity 2 is about a child. A new camera to capture the joy and beauty of a child. Katie and Micah did not have a child - and from the analysis of Paranomal Activity it is my assumption that their relationship would not cope well with a child. The baby is called 'Hunter' and we are told that the film is set 60 days before Paranormal Activity. We are led to believe that this is the 'beginning'.

In terms of 'upping' the stakes, this time there are more people and more cameras. The context is plausible as the house is destroyed and they need cameras for security and surveillance - but this is where a theme begins to creep in. The reaction to the issue is excessive - surveillance throughout the entire house? We realise the scale of the building and how successful this family is - something not happening to Micah and Katie. Practically, I can see how the story dictates these themes as only a wealthy family could afford surveillance throughout the house, but I believe that as the film draws to a close, the truth is clear and this wealth was achieved through ill gotten means.

The Cost of Happiness

I remember a sermon I heard at a church many years ago whereby the preacher explained how it is fascinating how we live in a modern world whereby we can buy what we want, but are never satisfied; we have such a wide range of ways to communicate, but we cannot recreate the intimacy of a one-to-one conversation; we can travel anywhere in the world, but don't feel safe at home.

That last point is what I find relevant to this story. A situation whereby a family who clearly have achieved a certain degree of success and wealth are not safe in their own home. Indeed, one of the most satisfying scares in the film is when cupboards that hold the families possessions suddenly open to the horror of Kristi (Sprague Grayden). Is there an assumption that the more you achieve in this world, the more paranoid you become? Too often we hear stories about how wealth has created horrendous situations. Lottery winners who explain how it was the worst thing that could happen to them as they were not accepted into wealthy-circles because they didn't gain the money in a 'fair' manner whilst they were not accepted by their previous company as they could clearly access things they could not, which in turn, would affect their relationships with others.

We are told that, prior to Hunter, a deal was made whereby an exchange for wealth and success was made for the cost of the first-born male in the family. This dictates what lengths people will go for money - and how greed, in and of itself, can corrupt you. The finale of the film is more shocking as, though we can accept that this was the fault of a generation prior to Katie and Kristi, the Father decides that to ensure his families safety is intact - and their lifestyle is intact - he will pass the demon on to Kristi's sister, Katie. It is easy to assume that the sins of the father can give us a certain element of peace as we realise that we are not at fault, but it is clear that the nature of greed and selfishness continues as the pain and trauma, in the Father's case, he is happy to pass onto another family. 

Sins of the Father
It is clear that the father's decision (like the decision of the Grandmother in making the deal in the first instance) is not ignored, and the demon-possessed Katie kills him in the last sequence. The fact that she has taken the child Hunter, clarifies further how this attitude towards 'happiness' will continue into the next generation.
Connecting the films together, we initially tackle relationships and then it moves onto family - and the values within family life. The values within Katie and Micahs relationship was unbalanced  - he failed to support her effectively, he ignored advice from experts, etc. In Paranormal Activity 2 we see how unbalanced values in a family can destroy the unit - they prioritise the importance of financial security in the family. Indeed, it is revealed that the purchase of the camera by the father is what influnences Micah's decision to purchase a camera himself - the idea of influence and passing-values to others. The themes of greed, envy and excess is what litter this film and, considering the themes explored in Paranormal Activity, it again hints at what is important to people - and if money is rated highly, then be prepared for a shock when you achieve it.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)

"Do you expect me to talk?"/"No Mr. Bond - I expect you to die!"
Sandwiched between Joseph Losey's The Servant and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising sits, awkwardly, Goldfinger. The 1001 Movies To See Before You Die only lists one James Bond adventure: Goldfinger. Kim Newman finishes his brief article on the film by stating that “Ever since, the series has been recycling”. Maybe so, but what a formulae they created! Guy Hamilton, directing his first film in the series, managed to combine the cool of From Russia with Love with new, innovative elements. Gadgets that were more than a briefcase, and an introduction that was simply unforgettable. Is it a duck? No, it’s James Bond. He is wearing a tuxedo underneath his wet-suit. Is this impossible? Not for 007.
This is the most iconic James Bond adventure – and the one film which, even at the time, critics began to realise represented more than simply ‘kiss, kiss, bang bang’. I don't believe any other 007 film has established itself with such status as Goldfinger. Indeed, Dr No started the ball-rolling, From Russia with Love, though superior to both films, is more of an homage to Alfred Hitchcock than a rule-breaker film. If the films followed in the vein of the first two films than it surely wouldn't have lasted 50 years - it would've struggled to reach the 1970's. Goldfinger has attributes that ensured Roger Moore's 8-film canon could rely heavily on comedy to pull it through - combined with stunning locations and quirky villains/henchmen. Though Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in From Russia with Love was the first 'true' henchman in the series, it was Oddjob (Harold Sakata) that paved the way for legends including Jaws, Vargas and Nic-Nac. The exceptional lengths which Goldfinger (Gerte Frobe) plans to go to corrupt the world economy isn't too far from the established SPECTRE game-plan, but in terms of the future, Goldfinger works alongside China, not the infamous Blofeld troupe.

Ian Fleming’s book openly acknowledges the lesbianism of Tilly Masterson and Pussy Galore, but the film only hints at Pussy (Honor Blackman) as homosexual. Like Tilly (Tania Mallet), in the film, she is ultimately swayed by Connery’s charm. Fleming connected Goldfinger with SMERSH (the villains which became SPECTRE in the film series), but the film detaches him and, even ignoring the Cold War element, connects him with China and the atomic bomb. Coincidentally, it was China who detonated their first atomic bomb in October 1964. Writers Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn even corrected Fleming’s impractical end-goal of stealing gold bullion from Fort Knox and openly acknowledged it in the film – as Goldfinger reveals his ‘true’ plan of setting an atomic bomb off inside Fort Knox, contaminating the bullion itself. Talk about capturing the zeitgeist.
Cultural Context
James Chapman writes in his brilliant book, Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films, how Goldfinger even gained parallels to Godard as Penelope Houston, writing for Sight & Sound stated “… that we know the clichés and can have a little fun with them” akin to the French New Wave. This is the core of the series, as throughout the previous five decades, the James Bond series has managed to create a style and formulae that alters to suit the new generations. Though the first five films – Dr No through to You Only Live Twice, they all feel innovative and unique, until the films become almost a parody of the mood ‘of the times’. Diamonds are forever imitating The French Connection. Live and Let Die cashing in on the success of the Blaxploitation genre. But it is the formulae established here that ensured their continuing success.

The film itself remains incredible as a product of its time, including a huge dollop of sexist bravado. Connery and Leiter (Cec Linder) in the initial Miami scene smacks a girls bum – “man-talk”. But the women are much stronger than the previous films – Tilly is avenging her sister’s death, Pussy initially argues she is ‘immune’ to his charm. It may be a long way off from Barbara Bach’s Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me and Sophie Marceau in The World is not Enough, but it was a start. On the other side of things, when you truly rip apart the narrative, you realise that James Bond himself is incredibly problematic in the film. He doesn’t escape Switzerland, leading to the laser in-between-the-legs. He doesn’t manage to get word to Leiter about his whereabouts – leading to the death of Solo (Martin Benson). And he doesn’t escape the jail cell, despite his efforts. It is Pussy who saves him and switches sides. The final action sequence within the terrific Fort Knox (designed by iconic set-designer Ken Adams) only concludes as a specialist defuses the bomb – not 007. Despite what the numbers on the dial tell us.

A New Market
This was a film which was made to draw in the international market – after capturing the European market in From Russia with Love. The budget was more than the previous two films combined and you can tell. The scale of this film is jaw-dropping – the aerial shots alone of Fort Knox, as hundreds of soldiers faint, is bigger than anything we have seen in the series so far.

This is where it truly began and we have the careful refinement by Broccoli and Saltzman to thank. We have the genius of Ken Adams and the screenplay by Richard Maibaum. Even the direction is rougher than before – handheld camerawork that Paul Greengrass must’ve seen before developing his own style that, in turn, influenced the James Bond series in 2006. After Goldfinger, everything was set in stone – but nothing would be the same, ever again. Not recycled – refined and truly outstanding.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007/2009)

"You cannot run from this- it will follow you. It may lay dormant for years. Something may trigger it to become more active and it may over time reach out to communicate with you"


I remain a keen viewer of the Saw series. When this clearly-inspired-by The Blair Witch Project film came along, I was skeptical. I definately didn't think it would have the longevity of the Saw series in theatres, let alone have any type of credible following. I would like to think that we Saw fans are very-much thinkers - we like the twisted-moral-compass Jigsaw has and hypothesize what we would do in such a situation. It makes us feel intelligent - the attributes of a thinking-mans film. Opposed to jump-scares and moving lights. Paranormal Activity only managed to achieve a viewing from me when I was offered a guest-spot on the LAMBcast discussing Paranormal Activity 2. I was hardly going to ignore the intial film and watch the second alone. Recently, I watched the first film again with Sarah and then, back-to-back, watched the second and third film a second time (the first for her) and I do believe there is a little more depth to the sequels then people let on. Maybe more than just 'jump-scares'...

Micah and Katie

What I am well-aware of from the outset is how this first film set the scene. In many ways, the depth and themes are less of an issue in this film. The 'set-up' was what attracted studios to the film and the 'set-up' is what attracted audiences to the film.

We see one camera in a house in an attempt to "catch" whoever is taunting couple - Katie and Micah (aka. "Meeeka" no "My-cah"). The backstory is limited as Katie explains how she had multiple "experiences" since the age of 8. She claims her hosue was burnt down and she can't remember certain things. What keeps out interest is the approach Micah has to the situation - he clearly doesn't feel threatened or in danger and, crucially, seems to believe Katie is overreacting. As the story progresses, Micah appears to be more foolish as he completely ignores Katie's advice by using a Ouiji board and then ignoring the advice of the 'expert' by becoming exceptionally angry for no clear reason ("What the fa-a-a-a-ck!"). Rather than the subtext, which is clearer in Paranormal Activity 2, it seems the focus here is the relationship between Micah and Katie. How they speak to each other and treat each other - and how 'healthy' the relationship is.

Relationship Issues

The fact that the 'demon' thrives on the anger within the household, it is physically representing the coping mechanisms of their relationship. As the two become more frustrated at each other, the demon becomes worse. The moments of peace seem to give the demon a moment to fester - akin to the moments you reflect on a situation and realise the severity of the issue. Even sleeping, we all believe might be an escape route from moments of stress and conflict, can actually highlight how these minor 'issues' between Micah and Katie have not been resolved. I recall a newspaper article celebrating the marriage of a coupl which continued after 70 years - thier "secret" according to the man was how they always resolved issues before going to bed.
Katie turning to an expert is a wise decision. A paranormal investigator who advises them against anger - advice which Micah fails to follow. Eventually, this leads to the poltergeist/frustration-in-relationship becoming dangerous and, eventually, destroys Micah - and therefore the relationship itself.
Technical Scares

Technically, it is clearly influenced by The Blair Witch Project amongst the recent barrage of 'home-footage' films. Nevertheless, it still manages to create 'scares' in its use of doors, noises and the 'throw' finale. Even the use of footage, unto itself, is a device which creates incredible tension. In a similar manner to the footage in Signs, the footage is simply shocking because it is delivered to us in a manner that gives the impression it is 'real' opposed to the glossy reality we normally see on a cinema screen. Add to this the use of text - "Night #5", etc - as if to give a sense of authenticity.

I believe Paranormal Activity is not ground-breaking, and doesn't pretend to be - but it does bring a fear home to us. Jaws was the fear of water, The Blair Witch Project was the unknown in a forrest and while camping. Paranormal Activity portrays a very 'normal' couple who are approached in the night - that feeling when a little air brushes past your leg when you sleep; the bang downstairs because a window has been left open, etc. The biggest fear is the unknown - and we don't see the poltergeist and are left to imagine the 'feeling' in the house. Indeed, it is this feeling which we can all relate to but we cannot put our finger on. The feeling that something just isn't right and we obsess and think about it too much. If you are in a relationship you are not happy within - you can feel it. Something just isn't right and though you can't put your finger on it, you know it's there. Fear that your home, in and of itself, is wrong ... and it is slowly changing who you are completely.
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