Saturday, 20 July 2013

The World's End - Movie Review

To say my hopes were high for this one is a bit like saying it's been a tad warm the last week and a half. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz remain two of my favorite movies and are associated with some pretty awesome memories, so the third in the 'Cornetto Trilogy' was always going to be dragging round a weight of expectation roughly the size of the second Death Star.

Not to go on too much of a nostalgia trip, but I saw Shaun of the Dead at the age of sixteen the first time I had ever gone camping with my friends. I went in, having never seen Spaced or anything else Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright or Nick Frost had done. We saw it, cycled back to the campsite, drank a couple of beers and spent the entire night quoting it at one another. Despite the fact that I don't speak to anyone from that part of my life any more, it remains in my memory as one of the most fun nights I had as a teenager.

Hot Fuzz was the opposite. The build-up of excitement had been a slow burn over many months, and being a few years older (and having watched Spaced) it didn't have the same visceral impact, but I enjoyed it. Over the next few years, it grew on me to the extent that I like it as much as Shaun, and there is still a group of people in my hometown where if we get together, within an hour we are trading quotes and laughing at our appalling West Country accents.

This one, however, I saw after several days of sleep deprivation and illness about three days after being really, really hot had stopped being fun. I say this as a declared interest - I wasn't in anywhere near the same frame of mind going into this one as the other two. Whether this has colored my opinions is something a re-watch will hopefully answer, and as a result I will try to keep comparisons to a minimum.

The World's End is a film about five men in their late 30s dragged back to their hometown to finish a pub crawl by one of their number they started at the age of 18. Of course, it's not as simple as that (as anyone who's seen the trailers knows) and eventually the five men (and one woman) must come together to save their old town and possibly even the human race from an alien invasion.

The person who has dragged them all back is one Gary King (Pegg), a truly monstrous creation who saw that night as the last great moment in his life. As someone who knows people like this (as well as the velvety touch of nostalgia addiction myself) he strikes a little too close to home to be really funny, at least for me - his selfishness and his grim insistence on a 'good time' on his terms undercuts the rather pleasant reunion the other guys enjoy, asking about jobs, kids, marriages and so on. He occasionally hits the right note with a genuinely funny anecdote but always overplays his hand. He's an amalgamation of every person you know who can't let go.

Only two others of the 'five musketeers' receive significant development. Andy (Frost) is a businessman who is in many ways the opposite of Gary. He's moved on, but it is frequently implied that he has also seen the consequences first-hand of living a life like Gary's. A payment of £600 made by Gary to Andy at the beginning  has taken on some dark undertones by the end. Andy is probably the most interesting character here - his refusal to drink and his brutal deconstruction of laddy 'drink culture' early on is particularly memorable. 

The other is Paddy Considine as Steven, last seen as one of the 'Andys' in Hot Fuzz, who comes across as somewhere in the middle of Gary and Andy. He embraces the opportunity more than Andy to revisit his younger self, dancing in the car and genuinely pleased to greet his old friends. He is also one of the most level-headed of the gang and most likable (in a film with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost that is no mean feat). Also worth noting is Rosamund Pike as an old flame of Gary's, who manages to avoid being an ice-queen super bitch or a mere love interest and instead comes across like a rather sweet, real person.

I know that I promised to avoid comparisons, but I believe there is one worth making here - while both Shaun and Fuzz had lengthy setups for the inevitable mayhem, it was foreshadowed in a variety of ways. In both you were aware something was going on in each and the joy was waiting for the payoff. Here, the alien invasion, even if you know it's coming from the trailer, comes out of nowhere. The film suddenly changes gear with a crunch and the effect is jarring. Because this one, more than the others, is not based off of a particular genre, the effect is also a feeling of going off the rails rather than settling into familiar archetypes. As a result, the film has to carry all of it's own weight, especially when it comes to suspension of disbelief, and unfortunately for me it never quite did.

The core plot of the pub crawl, combined with the alien invasion, is ultimately revealed to be a flimsy device on which to base the action, with the inside of one pub looking much like another (with one or two exceptions) and virtually no sense of danger at any point. The obligatory (at this point) cameos of various stars of the previous films and Spaced are here, but virtually none of them do anything except act as either exposition or a simple "Hey, it's that guy!"

I would say at this point that this is by no means a bad film. It's certainly coherent, and nothing truly maddening or base-breaking occurs. It is simply that one gets a sense of the principles having moved on. The 'Cornetto Trilogy' was begun at the very beginning of the star's respective careers and each has gone on to carve out a unique and respectable niche in the entertainment industry. Ironically, for a film in many ways about the dangers of nostalgia, they seem to have come back to their origins for one last hurrah and made something that disappointed me, at least. If it was a choice between this and them independently going off and carrying on with what they're doing now, the 'Cornetto Trilogy' could have remained uncompleted and I would have been slightly disappointed, but better that than come back for this effort, which seems a little half-hearted in light of the other two. 

The saddest thing, in many ways, is the complete lack of references to other films/TV shows/books in this one. The stated reason from Edgar Wright was that it wasn't something they wanted to keep doing, as they felt they were passed it (I think he thought it was immature). This makes me sad because it suggests they have lost sight of what made Spaced and the films so appealing in the first place. The joke was that we are a generation that is so mired in pop culture that everything is filtered through it - it's an idea that is approached in all sorts of ways in all three, mostly hilariously ("We're not using the Z word!") and to abandon it also abandons a huge chunk of the charm. 

Ultimately it didn't quite do it for me. By all means, go and see it, but this fan was disappointed. 

Finally, the ending. Without spoiling, this seems like it could divide people. I am ambivalent about it, but I will say this: there was more originality, charm and interesting ideas in the thirty second epilogue than there were in the previous hour and a half. 

I am aware this review is completely subjective and I did way more comparisons than I intended, I can only view this film through the same eyes I experience all the ups and downs of the real world and the first parts of the 'Cornetto Trilogy' are tied into my life in such complex ways that I can't even begin to view them objectively - and frankly I don't see why I should even try. Your experience of this film is likely to be completely different from mine, so I am not going to suggest whether or not you should go see it. All I can do is put down my thoughts and impressions and you can take from them what you will.

Andy out. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Silent Hill - Movie Review

It is almost a universal law that any adaptation of a video game into a film is going to be terrible. The reverse is also generally true (because of the way Hollywood sees games as tie-ins as opposed to something requiring independent development*) but those usually can be safely ignored - but the movies seem to a lot more intrusive, and a lot more likely to rile up fans of that particular game or series.

The list of awful movies based on video games is long, sad and should mostly be ignored (I'm not going to bother even mentioning them) but in this review I want to talk about a film that is almost there for me -Silent Hill.

For those of you who have never played any of the games, Silent Hill is an abandoned, deserted town in which a steady rain of ash falls unceasingly on the streets and seriously weird, aggressive creatures stalk the roads and inside the buildings. Also it occasionally turns into a red industrial nightmare version of itself, with the very walls becoming flesh and even weirder monsters looking to tear our protagonist limb from limb, or at the very least make him change his or her trousers.

This is one of the less disturbing ones
Also, depending on the entry, the monsters are either the delusions of a half-mad telekinetic teenager who's been tortured by an insane cult for seven years or the projections of the protagonist trying to deal with his own guilt, grief and sexual frustration. Yeah, they're kinda messed up.

Taking its cue from the first Silent Hill, but using elements from the second and third, the film initially follows the first game pretty closely (bar the gender of the protagonist) as Rose de Silva takes her daughter to the town after she mentions it a lot while sleep walking, crashes, wakes up to an empty car and goes looking for her missing daughter. This is all packed into the first ten minutes or so, and gets the situation set up and the town front and centre from the get-go. After that, it's only a matter of time before the sirens sound** and everything literally goes to hell - a red industrial nightmare as opposed to the blue-and-grey ash fever-dream that is the town's 'normal' state.

However, this is where the first of the film's problems appear. The film relies for its effects extremely heavily on CGI - the monsters, the transition between the two 'versions' of the town and especially the chaotic ending have all been made in a computer, which particularly does a disservice to the monsters as believing they are actually there is key to them being scary. Also the monsters are never really elaborated on. Sure, there are certainly theories one could come up with, but ultimately they are just creepy looking monsters - obstacles for the protagonist to get by or escape.

The second problem is that the characters themselves don't even seem that bothered by them. After Rose and Cybil (a patrol cop along for the ride) encounter the film equivalent of the thing in the picture above neither of them takes a moment to even go "What the HELL was that?!" It may be a function of the fact the plot needs to get moving, but the two ladies seem to acclimatize to the town awfully quickly, and recover rapidly from encounters with Silent Hill's less pleasant occupants when not under immediate threat.

This of course takes away the most important thing the games had going for them. At their best, a sense of suffocating dread and doom surrounded you, as you feared to pry open doors or couldn't solve puzzles because you were too disoriented and scared to think straight. Silent Hill 2 is still one of the most intensely terrifying experiences I have ever had. This film has nowhere near that level of sustained, harrowing horror.

The final problem is that the scenes in which Rose's husband and Sharon's father search for them in the non-supernatural version of Silent Hill stop the movie absolutely dead. As much as I love Sean Bean, the film would be better if these scenes were cut completely. It could be done very easily as well with no loss in story - that's how useless they are.

Not necessary

Yet despite these problems (and for most people, they tank the film) I stubbornly return to the fact that I like this film. While it doesn't scare, it does create a dream-like atmosphere all of it's own. The film is about Rose being trapped in a terrifying emotional puzzle box - an alternate dimension in which she must figure out the rules in order to get her daughter back. As a scary horror film, it's a bit lacking, but as a trip into a bizarre world with a radically different morality it works very well.

The film also effectively pillages the soundtracks of the games as well, and combining this with the mostly awesome set design creates a fascinating tapestry on which the events of the film play out.

So should you watch it? Sure. There's enough interesting stuff going on to distract you from how not-very-scary it is and it differentiates itself from the games enough that it's not an automatic either/or thing. The problems may be too much for some and they never completely vanish at any point so complete satisfaction is unlikely, but it's alright. I like it, but then again I like a lot of things.

One thing I noticed on this viewing (and was amazed I hadn't noticed before) was how dominated by women this film is. There are virtually no male roles in this at all (at least no useful ones - see above) - the story is about a mother searching for her daughter with a badass cop who happens to be a woman and coming into contact with various female antagonists. This is a movie that passes the Bechdel Test and then some, which is exceptionally rare when it comes to horror.

In fact, the only useful 'male' character is the creature credited as the 'Red Pyramid'. He has a pointed pyramid for a head, is immensely strong, and assaults women in this film with a massively long sword. Put it this way - he ain't subtle.

"I enjoy my work as a walking rape metaphor"

And even he is shown to be either the servant or created delusion of a powerful female force.

Silent Hill might be the most feminist horror movie ever made. 


* The exceptions to this rule generally occur are when there is a big enough gap between the release of the movie and the game. The best example is probably Goldeneye.

** I watched this with a bunch of people once before we all went to bed. Next morning at around 7 am me and the guy I was sharing a room with discovered the school bell across the road sounded exactly like the sirens from this. We weren't fully awake, so we both panicked a bit before realizing what it was and then felt a bit sheepish.