The good doctor thought this was great, so it ended up on our Love Film list. It arrived last night and I hate to admit this (because I appreciate it was ridiculous) but I didn't like it. I hid behind a cushion. It's a kind of a 'my first comedy horror' from Gremlins director Joe Dante aimed at teenagers. Thing is: I'm not a teenager and I don't like horror. And that's no laughing matter.
The premise is some kids move into a new neighbourhood and discover a whacking great big hole under their house. Good job the previous tennant moved out without so much of a post it note explaining it's a kind of gate way to hell and they best not remove the flimsy padlocks he's attached. But they do, and yes, all hell breaks loose - sort of.
Hell broke loose in the form of a terrible, slightly stunted script which trys to pack in slick one liners from the three lead characters. It just doesn't sound like normal converstaion. Even from grunting teenagers. Also, there's some awful plot decisions - huge story gaps which require a leap of faith from the audience as big as getting on board with the concept of the film in the first place.
So why did it scare me?
There's a freaky horrible clown.
Oh, it's nasty. Like that early 90s horror Childs Play but more menacing. It winks. Pure evil.
And then there's the nerve shattering high strings throughout the whole audio soundtrack. It's relentless. Like the foghorn in Shutter Island, it's permanently unsettling. Even in the day-time, sun-shining, pool swimming moments. "Agh, shut it off", I heard myself silently scream.
This teen-horror flick then descends into an odd commentary on domestic violence. It's like that scene in Hitchcock's Spellbound which Salvador Dali directed. It's super surreal, it's a brave artistic decision, but unlike Hitchcock, I didn't feel under a spell. Rather, I felt the director, Joe Dante, had watched a Tim Burton film the night before and thought he'd have a go. Just plain odd.
Verdict - 1 out of 5 - mainly for the comedy clown fight at the end.
I’m not a vampire/ horror/ gore film fan – I’m pretty squeamish with a hugely active imagination. I think my ability to suspend belief means that those visceral images don’t seem absurd to me, so they stick in my head for months afterwards preventing me from sleeping soundly!
Saying that, Let the Right One In (the original, not the pointless American remake) was not the blood-bath I feared. It was really a film about disconnected youth, a coming of age genre which happened to feature some pretty dark characters.
The little girl vampire, ‘Eli’ is secondary to the lonely characters which dwell in a rather mournful housing estate, home to hero, and local boy, ‘Oscar’.
Her, and her father’s, arrival don’t bring the community any moral message eg, they don’t gel this disjointed neighbourhood together, and neither do they rip it apart. You get the sense that the lonely occupants will continue their sad lives in exactly the same way after the vampires leave. After all, the ‘murders’ hardly stir the other characters into action or feeling - even the ones directly affected.
The ‘father’ figure is almost laughable. I felt like he was a bit dim, because he fails to execute the two men he identifies as ‘food’, barely speaks and offers himself as a wilful sacrifice hours later. It’s not even clear if he’s a vampire, or a pervert who looks after ‘Eli’?
The film is beautiful. Very architectural in cinematography. Clean lines, wide angle shots. Colours have been washed away to a wintry palette of grey, blue and white – with just the odd highlight of contrasting orange or yellow coming from the boy Oscar.
The director, Tomas Alfredson, uses a lot of close ups of peoples’ hands or ears, or back of head – rather than their face. This ‘first person’ technique, makes the film feel very intimate, but also frustrates the narrative, as you feel you want to look around you and you can’t – you’re blinkered at the will of the director.
Other than some moments a conservative American audience wouldn’t stomach (the child nudity for example) I can’t understand why there was a need to remake this. Yes, it’s in Swedish, but it’s a nice, discombobulating language to listen to which adds to the disjointed feeling of the film. Also, the dialogue is not dominant, it’s very much the ‘atmosphere’ of the film which makes the lasting impression – what you see, not what you hear.
The best of example is the very original ending, with ‘Oscar’ hiding from the horrors above him in the pool. I HATE gore, but in this moment, I found myself inwardly cheering for Eli that she had come to save the day.
4 out of 5 – very surprised by this original, strangely uplifting film.
This is not a not a 'nostalgic triumph' as some reviewers have said. It’s a triumph. But it’s realistic, not nostalgic.
I’ll tell you why.
For ages Hollywood has created this delusionary world of childhood which is one extreme or the other. My secondary education was nothing like High School Musical. But my summer holidays were like Super 8 (except minus the alien and whole-scale destruction of my home town – which wouldn't have been a bad planning choice)
What I mean is, I’m sick of seeing perfect kids on screen, speaking in snappy one-liners, going home to their parents who are only 10 years older than them.
So the casting of Super 8 is genius. They’re real, rounded and believable characters, who speak like kids, act like kids (the scene in the diner has dialogue even Oscar winners couldn’t keep pace with).
I could relate to this version of childhood. I remember having a tiny, messy bedroom full of homemade toys and artwork; cycling everywhere; hanging out with best friends playing mindless games in the park with the other neighbourhood kids. There were fat kids, and kids with giant dental braces and kids who liked to blow stuff up, because that’s what kids are like. Even the 'it' kids were low-key social heros - popular because they had their own climbing frame, not because they looked like models.
It made me feel really grateful that I stubbornly didn’t want to ‘grow up’ and how lucky I was to have the freedom to disappear every day during the summer holidays without having to call home on my iphone every 10 minutes to reassure parents who read that a paedo was on the loose from a Daily Mail twitter. Well, at least this is what I assume modern parenting is like (I read it on the Daily Mail). The parents in this film aren’t around (literally for ‘Joe’ and ‘Alice’) but life is not dysfunctional.
So many films present an aspiration to kids to act older than they are. What a shame. Kids need to be free-range, to see that mucking about on meagre pocket money with DIY projects can be so much more fun than anything you can buy.
Maybe this ‘nostalgic’ snapshot (helped by the deliberately celluloid, 70s sepia-colour filter throughout) will reawaken a backlash against mindless consumerism. I overheard a commentator on radio 4 observe that children’s TV shows in the 80s showed you how to make your own entertainment out of egg cartons, loo rolls and a bit of imagination. By contrast, modern day MTV is full of a world of unachievable glitz. No wonder people think this is nostalgic. People have forgotten how to make your own fun – and I’m not talking about anything romantic.
But that leads me onto another good point. How sweet, honest and heart-felt the ‘romance’ between Joe and Alice is. How easy could it have been to end up with big kiss like the usually Hollywood tosh (usually accompanied by starlight, all the bullies from high school watching, and an epic soundtrack, maybe even flying involved – see Twilight for reference). No. This is so sweet. They hold hands and you know everything will be okay.
• Another film which manages to successfully mix CGI with real world sets (see Inception).
• This film is mirrored by the ‘play within a play’ (not that Abrahams is Shakespeare) which ‘Charlie’ makes (wait for the end credits) - it has every genre neatly covered (crime, spy, action, war, buddy, coming of age, romance, family drama and not forgetting the big one, sci-fi) spliced with great dialogue, inspired special effects, and moments of genuine pathos and triumph. Well, maybe that’s a bit rich. It’s 3 minutes long, but I still enjoyed it.
• As with any sci-fi monster/ alien films, I always think it is better if you don’t actually see the big scary beast. I think my imagination is better than any graphic animator’s. I was hoping, like the first two-thirds of the film, this might have remained as sneaky scary snippets. But no, he’s got to look it in the eye at the end so we realise ‘who’s the real monster’ and thus learn the lesson. Sigh. Still it wasn’t as bad as the pixelated mess they created for Cloverfield.
• I thought I heard composer Michael Giacchino mix in a few ‘Jon Williams’ ET-style musical moments.
5 out of 5 – simply super.
I’m not against feel-good, sentimentalised drama, if done well it can be very enjoyable, and this, I think falls in that category. The three lead males, Freddy, Bruce, Snork (Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan) were well cast, supported by a great script which allowed them to create rounded and believable characters. Special note to ‘funny’ guy Jack Doolan who manages to dance a difficult jog between comedy and tragedy with his character Snork – moving away from the slapstick temptation I’m sure would have been an easy route, based on the script.
Supported by screen powerhouse Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson (who manage to keep their screen presence subtle and poignant) – especially the moment Mrs Kendrick talks about the last time she was thanked for a cup of tea.
But this family contrasted wildly to ‘Freddy’s - with Ricky-I-can-only-be-Brent Gervais as a buffoonish patriarch – so much so these scenes seemed crudely spliced in from a sitcom, entirely separate from the rest of the drama.
Watching the extras afterwards there was one scene which shouldn’t have been deleted as it gave so much more insight into Bruce. Desperate to get Freddy out for a drink, he takes the task of selling life insurance policies from him, and swiftly despatches five leads at a nearby funeral. It’s at that point you really understand the potential he has, which makes it all the sadder that he’s wasting it in Cemetery Junction.
If it didn’t have the odd cameos from Gervais and co, this would have been very good; sadly they add a jarring oddity to an otherwise heartfelt, nostalgic drama. Stick to the script writing.
3 out of 5 – mainly for the many genius one-liners (‘stop buying music made by puffs and get some Elton John’).
Continuity geekery – many of the houses in 1973 Reading apparently had double glazing. Owch.