In my previous post, I discussed three of the more exciting horror entries in competition at Cannes, including von Trier’s since premiered Antichrist that has the press in a tither over its scenes of genital mutilation, graphic sex, and talking animals. Of the responses I have read, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times seems to take the fairest approach, meeting the film halfway by viewing it as largely ironic.
But while industry critics continue to reel over von Trier’s inflamatory film and grandiose statements, some films screening out of competition are quietly making a different kind of statement. Specifically, Sam Raimi‘s latest film, Drag Me To Hell, has piqued my interest for its perfectly-timed foreclosure themes. The director of the Evil Dead series takes a break from Spiderman to return to his roots with a horror entry starring Alison Lohman as a loan officer who is cursed after denying an old lady an extension on her home loan payments. Here’s the trailer:
Talk about tapping into the cultural zeitgeist! The conceit has a lot of potential to critique America’s ownership society, though I worry that the centrality of the Lohman character will personalize these issues in a way that depoliticizes them. Then again I like the framing of Lohman’s motivations as an effort to move up the corporate ladder, and the trailer seems to deliberately reference gender biases by mentioning a male rival with less experience. Still, I’m wary of how the film will approach issues of class and ethnicity, given the old woman’s Eastern European accent and grotesque make-up. But a peak at the film’s poster suggests that the film may be socially aware:
I’m struck by the background images of large, sepia-toned houses, as well as Lohman’s business-attire wardrobe. Such details point to a conscious effort on the filmmakers’ parts to comment on the role of excess in the flailing economy.
It’s exciting to see a filmmaker translating the current economic crisis into a horrific fable, and the buzz from preview showings has been universally positive. Luckily for me, I won’t have to wait long for this one to hit theaters: Drag Me to Hell is slated for release May 29th after its Cannes screening.
This year’s Cannes Film Festival features plenty of familiar faces directing the competition’s films. Previous Palme d’Or winners Jane Campion, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Ken Loach, and Quentin Tarantino all have films competing for prizes this year, demonstrating what a high caliber affair the festival continues to be. Of the many fascinating entries this year, the supernatural-themed films excite me the most, and surprisingly, there are quite a few to consider.
Gaspar Noé’s latest film, Enter the Void, focuses on a brother and sister, who move to Tokyo and work as a drug-dealer and stripper, respectively, to survive in a new country. When the brother dies in a drug-bust, his soul refuses to leave the world in order to fulfill a promise to his sister that he never leave her. According to the synopsis on the Cannes Festival website, the brother’s ghost “wanders through the city, his visions growing evermore distorted, evermore nightmarish. Past, present and future merge in a hallucinatory maelstrom.”
To be honest, I’ve yet to see any of Noé’s previous films, which most famously include I Stand Alone and Irreversible. These previous works seemed too racist and misogynistic for my taste, though I’ve never completely discounted them. Enter the Void, however, sounds relatively more socially conscious than his previous work, and I am particularly interested in how the brother-sister relationship is portrayed. On top of that, the stills available on the web look terrific. I’m hoping the film lives up to the fascinating concept and neon aesthetic.
Another supernatural entry comes courtesy of South Korean director Chan-Wook Park, the director who helmed Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy, and Lady Vengeance. Of his films, I’ve only seen the latter two of the vengeance trilogy along with his short film in the Three…Extremes anthology, and I’ve found that while his work is stylistically compelling, the stories fail to engage me on a gut level. It was only after a second viewing of Lady Vengeance that I really appreciated the emotion behind the complex narrative and realized that Park’s attempts to deconstruct the revenge genre ultimately enhance it.
I hope that this latest Park film, called Thirst, attempts something similar with the vampire genre. The film features a priest who becomes a vampire after traveling to Africa, dying upon contracting a virus, and receiving a blood transfusion that revives him. The trailer suggests that the film explores biblical themes of sin and resurrection, and vampirism seems to be equated most specifically with adultery.
After three popular films that primarily explored vengeance, I am interested to see Park’s take on these different themes through what sounds like a promising (though possibly problematic) storyline.
However, Lars von Trier’s entry called Antichrist intrigues me the most. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, the two play a couple who retreat to a cabin in the woods called Eden (again with the biblical reference) after the death of their only child. Upon arriving, strange phenomena occur apparently involving animals and other natural elements.
Given his previous work on The Kingdom series, von Trier seems to be an ideal director for the horror genre. I’m also intrigued by the choice of Charlotte Gainsbourg as the wife. I found her performance in I’m Not There haunting in its intensity, and the trailer for Antichrist hints at a similar undercurrent of melancholy in her character. Von Trier has been praised in the past for his direction of Emily Watson, Bjork, and Nicole Kidman, and while I question the paternalistic implications of framing the director/actress relationship as such, I am eager to see what the collaboration looks like given von Trier’s track record.
Overall, I’m thrilled to see that so many horror films have made it Cannes this year! This short list does not even take into consideration the latest Tarantino film or a film by Johnnie To called Vengeance about a professional killer avenging the death of his daughter’s family. Could the hard times of economic recession be inspiring this rash of violent movies by the best and brightest directors? I eagerly await their US releases to find out!