Tag Archives: Schizophrenia

CAPSULE: WHITE RABBIT (2013)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Tim McCann

FEATURING: Nick Krause, Britt Robertson, Sam Trammell

PLOT: Things start to go rapidly downhill for Harlon, an emotionally abused boy, after his father makes him kill an injured white rabbit; years later he hears the voices of characters from his favorite comic strip urging him to stand up for himself.

Still from White Rabbit (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If “angsty” meant “weird”, this would have been the weirdest movie I have ever seen. However, it doesn’t, and this wasn’t. White Rabbit‘s occasional dips into pseudo-schizophrenic hallucinations are very few and far between, and for better or worse the movie burns up its first two-thirds blandly exposing just how horrible life can be when you’re stuck in a rural backwoods with nothing to do but shoot, drink, and beat on anyone who is remotely different.

COMMENTS: There is a problem with a twist-based movie when by the end one just can’t care less. While the ambiguity provided a bit of relief, a movie hingeing on a final minute that misfires is nothing short of disappointing. There are a number of things that Tim McCann is trying to achieve with White Rabbit; however, they’ve already been accomplished in other, superior, movies. Rural life is terrible? Check out Gummo. Society overlooks the mentally ill? Check out Clean, Shaven. Angst is a sure-fire path to outburst? Check out Angst. Whatever you do, don’t check out White Rabbit.

McCann’s cautionary (?) tale of abuse and detachment begins at the end, with the goth-y protagonist’s back-story fleshed out confessional-style. Young Harlon’s home life is terrible: his father Darrell is a volatile drunk, his brother teases him mercilessly, and his mother’s best efforts to make things “okay” are welcome but insufficient. At a tender age, his father buys him a gun and goes hunting with him. Cue the film’s metaphor. In the middle of the woods, Harlon sees a white rabbit, which his father immediately orders him to dispatch. The boy misses, and they pursue the animal until they find it stuck in a briar. Taunted by his father, Harlon shoots the now-defenseless rabbit. Dead white bunny = innocence lost.

Growing up in Rural, USA, the boy has one friend, Steve, who is even more abused than he. Otherwise alone, Harlon takes comfort in a comic book series called the Scarlet Widow. Its characters begin talking to him, using words of malevolent encouragement. Then there’s Harlon’s father. As nasty as the father generally is, he is the only fleshed-out character. Though “charming” would be far too strong a word to describe him even in his better moments, Darrell stands as the movies most relatable figure. Improbably, his disappointment and ridicule are interrupted by intermittent bursts of kindness and understanding. In one scene, having just gotten high on crack, Darrell takes his son to a nearby strip club after the boy’s had a rough day. Darrell’s own life obviously has been pretty dismal, but he has a kind of flippant charisma that made him the only character worth watching.

Anyhow, things get nasty at an accelerating rate. Steve suffers a nebulous fate after a dog-adoption goes awry. The depressive-pixie-dream-girl whom Harlon fancies cleans up her act and gets together with the now reformed jock that Harlon (rightly) abhors. Unfortunately, the best twist of the movie never happens. There’s a point where everyone around him has reformed and become a decent person; had McCann explored the greater isolation Harlon would have experienced after this, things might have traveled down an interesting psychological path. As it goes, White Rabbit ducks out of this route almost before it begins, ending on a “Hey, maybe there’s some redemption going on here. Or not. Or maybe.” Or whatever.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the voices he soon hears in his head are as muddled and underdeveloped as the rest of the film, which falls back on the easiest answers available to explain its protagonist’s fractured psyche.”–Nick Schrager, Film Journal International (DVD)

153. CLEAN, SHAVEN (1993)

“With Clean, Shaven, I really tried to examine the subjective reality of someone who suffered from schizophrenia, to try to put the audience in that position to experience how I imagined the symptoms to be: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, disassociative feelings, anxiety. Hopefully the audience would feel at the end of it like how it must be to feel that way for a lifetime and not just eighty minutes…”–Lodge Kerrigan

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Greene, Robert Albert, Jennifer MacDonald

PLOT: Peter has been released from a mental hospital, but he still suffers from near constant auditory hallucinations and paranoid thinking. Insulating himself from the outside world by taping newspaper over his car windows, he drives through New Brunswick, Canada, searching for his lost daughter Nicole, who was adopted after he was institutionalized. As Peter hones in on Nicole’s location, he is simultaneously being hunted by a detective who believes that the schizophrenic is responsible for the murder of a girl about his daughter’s age.

Still from Clean, Shaven (1993)

BACKGROUND:

  • Lodge Kerrigan’s first film, Clean, Shaven took two years to complete filming, as the director was always running out of money. The film was eventually completed for under $70,000. It has grossed far more than that.
  • Kerrigan’s inspiration for the film was a college friend who was afflicted with schizophrenia.
  • In 1994 Clean, Shaven screened at Cannes in the “Un Certain Regard” category alongside movies like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and ‘s Faust.
  • Although he is very good here in the type of intense and challenging part that usually wins awards, this role did not catapult Peter Greene to stardom. He did, however, land small parts in two of the 1990s greatest hit movies: Pulp Fiction (where he plays Zed, the cop who colludes with the pawnshop owner) and The Usual Suspects (an uncredited bit part).
  • According to reports, Kerrigan turned down early offers that conditioned a distribution deal on his editing out the fingernail scene.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s hard to argue against the infamous “fingernail” scene, the gruesome moment that made festival audiences scream, squirm, hide their eyes, and sometimes stand up and head for the exits. When I think back on Clean, Shaven, however, what I remember are the shots of telephone wires streaming along to the sound of Peter’s buzzy personal soundtrack of distorted voices and static; the images reflect the miswired disorientation of Peter’s brain, mirrored in the scary external world racing by outside his car window.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This movie traps us inside the mind of a madman. We are assaulted by his auditory hallucinations, and, like him, we can’t be sure whether what we see and experience is real, or a product of a tormented imagination. The schizophrenic sound design is superlative; this may not be the weirdest movie you’ll ever see, but it’s definitely in the running for the weirdest movie you’ll ever hear.


Original trailer for Clean, Shaven

COMMENTS: Lodge Kerrigan makes movies about people you’d cross the street to avoid bumping into: the homeless, prostitutes, the mentally ill. Continue reading 153. CLEAN, SHAVEN (1993)

CAPSULE: JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Evan Neumann

PLOT: Scenes from the life of schizophrenic Julien and his bizarre family.

Still from Julien Donkey-boy (1999)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Made between his startling debut Gummo (1997) and his acerbic comeback movie Trash Humpers (2009), Julien Donkey-Boy is the Harmony Korine experiment that falls through the cracks. Sure, it’s got its fertile weird moments—Korine puts Werner Herzog in a gas mask and has him swill cough syrup—but its indifference to narrative or structure makes for a lot of dry patches, resulting in a frequently dull movie that’s of interest to hardcore Korine-ophiles only.

COMMENTS: Switching from familial underwear wrestling matches to hidden camera thrift store excursions to snippets from a freakshow talent contest, with all the footage apparently shot by a drunk and edited by a psychotic, the movie Julien Donkey-boy is as schizophrenic as its protagonist. Julien himself is ably, if unpleasantly, portrayed by Scottish Ewan Bremner, who drools and slurs ridiculous monologues from behind a grill of gold teeth (presumably the source for the “donkey-boy” title reference). Julien’s brother is an aspiring wrestler; his sister practices ballet in her room at night, but she’s in her third trimester. Lording over this motley brood is pop Werner Herzog; he swigs cough syrup (from a slipper), listens to Dock Boggs and occasionally wears a gas mask. He has given up on Julien and his sister and focuses all his hopes and attention on their athletic brother. We absorb these relationships slowly as the movie weaves from one improvised incident to another. Julien spies on his sister dancing, then takes a bath and gibbers out a prayer, then the family has dinner and Herzog discusses the false-teeth cleaning habits of famous people, and so on. Other scenes are simply impressionist camera experiments, with out-of-focus, seasick handheld shots and experimental lighting. Korine keeps up his obsession with grotesqueries and freaks, finding ways to shoehorn a dwarf who plays drums with his feet, a rapping albino, and a human ashtray into the story. One bizarre, disconnected scene shows a nun masturbating. The deliberately undisciplined technique of stitching together sketches shot in various styles is carried over from Gummo, but the collage approach doesn’t work as well for painting a portrait of an individual as it did for a town. By repeating words like mantras and babbling nonsense syllables to fill in the empty spaces in his monologue stream, Julien’s speech resembles a real schizophrenic. But, like a real schizophrenic, although you feel sorry for him, you also don’t want to spend a lot of time with him. The character manages to be simultaneously irritating and boring, which are not the defining characteristics you want in a movie protagonist. In a key scene, Julien proudly recites a poem at the dinner table: “morning chaos eternity chaos midnight chaos noon chaos eternity chaos…” It goes on for several stanzas before Herzog interrupts, explaining he doesn’t like the poem because it’s too “artsy-fartsy.” He then describes the climax of Dirty Harry as his idea of great art. Korine seems to be mocking the public preference for meaningless exploitation over artistic ambition, but the irony is that anyone would consider Dirty Harry a greater achievement than Julien’s nonsense poem. Julien Donkey-boy emerges as the least interesting of Korine’s experimental features, which is a shame because it’s also his most humanistic pictures, and the only one where he seems to truly like his characters (Julien was based on Korine’s uncle). The scene where Sevigny pretends to be Julien’s dead mother while talking to him on the telephone is unexpectedly touching, and the shots of the pregnant blonde meandering through a golden field of sunlit grain while singing hymns counts as the most legitimately beautiful thing Korine has ever filmed. It’s too bad these few sympathetic moments are drowned out by a cascade of babble.

Julien Donkey-boy starts with a certificate (signed by ) proclaiming that the movie was produced in accordance with the Dogma 95 movement. Dogma was a set of rules set forth by von Trier and other Danish filmmakers intended to make filmmaking more naturalistic: i.e. there should only be handheld cameras, no music added, only natural lighting, etc. In practice, almost no Dogma film ever followed all of these arbitrary rules (although, as Armond White incisively pointed out, almost every amateur porn movie did). Julien Donkey-boy includes a non-diegetic musical score and lots of optical trickery that should have precluded it from being certified as a Dogma film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Korine emerges more clearly this time as a filmmaker exploring the territory where the circus sideshow meets the avant-garde.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric SG, who rhapsodized that it was “frickin’ weird… Korine’s finest/weirdest accomplishment to date.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE CORRIDOR (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Evan Kelly

FEATURING: Stephen Chambers, David Patrick Flemming, James Gilbert, Glen Matthews, Matthew Amyotte

PLOT: A young man is released from a psychiatric hospital and invites his childhood buddies for a weekend in a cabin in the woods to commemorate his mother’s passing.

Still from The Corridor (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Corridor leads to a weirdly horrific place, but the word that comes to mind when thinking of it is “solid.” Watching it won’t waste your time if your tastes run towards the uncanny, but it doesn’t belong on any “best of all time” lists.

COMMENTS: A lot of bizarre things happen in The Corridor, but the strangest of all may be when mad Tyler, who stabbed his friend Everett in the hand during a psychotic break after his mother’s apparent suicide, is released from the mental hospital and invites his victim and three other friends to a snowbound cabin in the middle of nowhere for a memorial service for the deceased woman—and they accept. If you buy that, you’ll probably have no problem accepting the notion of a mystical corridor with rippling aurora borealis style walls that descends over the forest and grants a muddled omnipotence to anyone who enters it. The convention of the “cabin” genre is to isolate a small core of actors in the titular location and allow them to party and grate on one another’s nerves for thirty minutes before the carnage starts. Usually, the victims are quickly sketched stereotypes (or archetypes, as The Cabin in the Woods would have it), and here, too, we get the expected division between the social haves and have-nots: the jock and the jerk musician are the cool kids, picking on the brain and the dweeb, with the “nice guy” running interference between the two camps. The Corridor‘s characters, however, are a more grown-up gang of cabin fodder—rather than typical teens just trying to get laid and get blotto, they’re dealing with adult problems like stalled careers, starting a family, and the onset of male pattern baldness. The age shift results in richer dramatic context; the characters are better rounded, with more at stake and deeper histories that make the pranks and jibes they throw at each other reverberate with buried resentments. The opening is drawn well enough that you shouldn’t mind that the movie takes its time setting up the dynamic between the five men before beginning its descent into madness. When Tyler discovers the mystical hallway in the woods and starts seeing visions of his dead mother, the question arises: is his sanity backsliding because his meds are mixing badly with the booze his pals slipped into his juice, or are the voices he’s hearing really emissaries from another world? Don’t expect any unambiguous answers from the determinedly weird third act, where the Corridor grants those who stand within its halls strange powers, like synchronized nosebleeds, super hearing, and, most memorably, unsurpassed skill at rock-paper-scissors. The blood starts to flow and the script pulls a sanity switcheroo or two as the pace accelerates on the way to a reality-busting finale. On the whole The Corridor is a well written and acted affair that delivers a satisfying wallop of schizoid horror, and benefits from a low-to-mid budget that forces it to substitute psychological depth and narrative invention for special effects.

The Corridor is one of those movies that so far has divided audiences and critics. Festival reviewers were almost universally positive, contributing to IFC’s decision to pick up the film for its “Midnight” line of smart horror. Fright flick fans, on the other hand, showed a tepid reception to the film, perhaps because they were hoping for something with a little more gore and a lot less confusion from a “cabin” movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There is a bit of Donnie Darko here and a bit of Stephen King – but more than anything there is a solid character based thriller that leaves you feeling pretty damn satisfied.”–Ryan Aldrich, Twitch (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)

This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010; the article was partially recovered from Google cache, and the rest of the text was recreated. Sorry, original comments were irretrievably lost in cyberspace.

DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Kasten

FEATURING: Andras Jones, Seth Green, Jeffrey Combs, Beth Bates, Ted Raimi

PLOT: Awakening from a dream to find himself on an operating table, an amnesiac is

Scene from The Attic Expeditions (2001)

informed that he is a schizophrenic murderer who has been committed to a private institution and is now being sent to a halfway home—nicknamed “the House of Love”—to be rehabilitated.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Attic Expeditions sounds echoes of some (better) weird movies: Jacob’s Ladder (in the way that the script offers different possible explanations for the protagonist’s hallucinations, and jerks the viewer back and forth between those theories) and Donnie Darko (in that it seems the director intended to tell a fantastical story that “made sense” on a literal level, but lost control of the story when he took it one paradox too far).  An interesting, confusing, out-of-control picture, it’s as fascinating for its misses as for its hits.  It falls just short of a general recommendation, but it is recommended to anyone interested in psychological, mindbending horror seasoned with heaping doses of confusion and who isn’t a stickler for great acting.  This is the kind of curious, singular picture that could wind up filling one of the final slots in the List.

COMMENTS: Trevor Blackburn may be a schizophrenic murderer, or he may be an amnesiac sorcerer, or he may be the victim of an unethical psychological experiment; or he may be all three.  It’s impossible to tell, especially since The Attic Expeditions is full of contradictions and contains segments where the timeline suddenly resets and the action repeats itself with slight variations.  The mystery promiscuously throws out clues, but every possible explanation for Trevor’s woes seems chained to its own refutation.  Trevor is an unreliable narrator in triplicate: he’s a definite amnesiac, a possible schizophrenic, and, to top it all off, his state-appointed guardian appears to be deliberately playing with his loose grip on reality.  Psychiatrist Dr. Ek (played by Jefferey Combs as a variation on Herbert West as a pot-smoking, skin-popping headshrinker) uses Trevor as a case study for an experiment in Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)

LIST CANDIDATE: KEANE (2004)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  Damian Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Amy Ryan

PLOT:  The lives of three desperate people intersect when a schizophrenic man clings to sanity long enough to help a distressed woman and her young daughter in the underbelly of Manhattan.

Still from Keane (2004)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Keane provides a schizophrenics’ eye view of the world. Presented from the protagonist’s unique perspective, we experience his confusion, distress and earnest need to be understood in closeup.  The effect is claustrophobic, frantic at times, and uniquely unsettling.  This makes for a viewing experience that is as unusual as Keane’s compelling odyssey.

COMMENTS:  Intense, suspenseful, unpredictable, Keane is an unsettling story that disorients the viewer by stripping him of any sense of control or foresight. In this harrowing, unusual drama, a mentally ill man struggles to pull himself together when his tenuous personal odyssey is interrupted by a dislocated woman with her eight-year-old daughter in tow.  Keane (Lewis) is frantically searching for his abducted daughter whom he lost in New York’s Port Authority bus terminal months before.  Battling the adversity of delusions and an already unbalanced brain chemistry exacerbated by substance abuse, he aimlessly drifts through seedy Manhattan locales with a feverish purpose.

Querying passersby with a newspaper photo of his child, retracing his steps leading to his daughter’s disappearance, Keane has at best a shaky grasp on reality.  As he teeters on the edge of sanity, he has numerous close scrapes, and we are left to wonder if his daughter and her supposed abduction are real or merely a delusional schizophrenic construct.  Is Keane driven mad because of his sense of guilt over the disappearance of his little girl, or is the entire episode imagined because he is mad?

Keane’s life is complicated, yet conversely given direction when he forms an uneasy alliance with a questionable woman (Breslin) and her bewildered daughter (Ryan) who are mired  in a similarly helpless situation of their own.  Can Keane keep hold of himself long enough to help, and if so, will his efforts bear fruit—or is he being conned?  And what about his missing child?  Is she real?  Can Keane separate fantasy from reality, or will he confuse his situation with that of his new wards?

While Keane shares some fleeting similarities to moments such as the all-night diner scene in Midnight Cowboy, the overall mood of harsh, unbuffered reality, unabashed locations, and the characters’ personal eccentricities compares most closely with Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 film, The Rain People.

Like The Rain People, Keane offers a stark, almost excruciatingly real and raw, documentary-like dose of gritty people and their situations, unsoftened by mood-setting background music, or storybook establishing shots.  The gloomy, seamy visual footprint is claustrophobic, the settings non-idealized and the treatment of the subject matter unapologetic.

Keane is an unsettling, voyeuristic stare at it’s subject.  Filmed from Keane’s vantage point, the viewer is made to feel like he is that shell of the once sane anti-hero, trapped inside Keane himself, but unable to intervene as a more powerful, perverse alter-ego takes control and carries him along for the ride.  Infused with a mix of empathy and revulsion, we do our best to hold on and roll with the punches as Keane inexorably falters down an uncertain path, doing his best, sometimes falling short, leaving us to hold our breath and persistently wonder, “what next?”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Somewhere between a thriller and a clinical study in schizophrenia, ‘Keane’ is a movie that puts you so far into someone else’s head you may have forgotten your own name by the time it’s over.”–Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

Keane trailer

CAPSULE: THE PROMISE [LA PROMESA] (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Héctor Carré

FEATURING: , Santaigo Barón, Ana Fernández, Juan Margallo, Evaristo Calvo

PLOT :  A devout nanny’s religious convictions are tested when a clairvoyant child implores
her to murder his father.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The events in La Promisa unfold in a weird way, making the story bizarre.  The nature of these events, however, is no different from those in any occult film; the film is as conventionally produced as any horror movie.  While the story is definitely out there, the overall viewing experience is not quite weird enough to be certified as such.

COMMENTS:  Solid performances and Santiago de Compostela locations compliment this creepy, offbeat occult tale.  Gregoria (Maura) is a modest housewife leading a life of quite desperation.  Her marriage is suffocating, her husband (Margallo) is an ogre and her spirit is repressed.  When her husband’s abuse takes its toll, Gregoria seeks refuge in the ecclesiastical.  Finding solace in religious fervor, she plunges into the deep end of delusional thinking.  Or does she?  Taken to episodes of brief catatonia, Gregoriia becomes accident prone and paranoid.  Every shadow hides a demon and every accident is a sign of manifest evil.  Her chosen solution is to pray incessantly.

When a bizarre tragedy leads her to a chance encounter with a dying soothsayer, the doomed man implores Gregoria to fulfill a prophecy at a mysterious church in a remote mountain village.  Supernatural voices drive Gregoria to murder her husband, after which she flees to the strange hamlet.  There, on a fog enshrouded mountain estate, she takes a job as caretaker to a telepathic boy named Daniel (Barón).

Haunted by voices and fearing that she is losing her mind, Gregoria is drawn into a divine good versus evil enigma. Her snowballing predicament becomes centered around a secret passage, a well that presents a nasty fall hazard, the ghost of her husband, and her young ward’s murderous psychic manipulations.  But the answer and her fate are inexplicably intertwined.  The key to it all lies grounded in the sinister old church that she is destined to visit.  The clairvoyant Daniel will use any means necessary to entice her there to fulfill The Promise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an offbeat, mostly effective story of madness that combines a psychological study, a supernatural yarn and a tale of domestic violence to surprisingly rounded effect.”–Jonathan Holland, Variety (contemporaneous)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SPIDER (2002)

DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

PLOT: A disturbed man is released from a mental institution and sent to live in a halfway

Still from Spider (2002)

house.  While there, he traces back to his childhood to remember a troubled past and the tragic events that shaped his current mental instability.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: To compile a list of the weirdest movies ever made, one would be hard-pressed not to include Cronenberg’s entire oeuvre.  Here, the director eschews the “body horror” that encompassed much of his earlier films and focuses solely on the deterioration of the mind.  While this can be just as grotesque as horrors of the flesh, the journey can get so convoluted at times that the weirdness teeters on a fulcrum.  Eventually, the confusion weighs too heavy and topples the weirdness into mere befuddlement.

COMMENTS: A cinematic pet peeve of mine was surely tested with this movie.  Being American, I shouldn’t have to struggle listening to an English film (i.e., UK-Great Britain).  We speak the same tongue, albeit with some slight variances in words and phrases.  The cockney accents in this film can get so thick at times I considered reaching for the subtitle button on the remote.  To make matters worse, the film focuses on the character of Spider (Fiennes) who mumbles and spews gibberish as a means of communication.  Actually, most of his conversations are only with himself.  I loathe having to toggle the volume levels up and down.  I had to do this for the duration of the film.  Aside from this aggravation, Spider is not a bad film; nor is it a great one.

I loved the approach taken in the opening credits.  Various textiles and walls are displayed artistically with corrosion and chipped paint, each frame containing a pattern or form that is open to interpretation.  It is set up to resemble Rorschach inkblot tests used in the psychiatric field (I must be going mad myself because all I see in them are cool looking demons).  These opening credits are effective because they prepare the viewer for a movie that deals with an imbalanced mind.  What we perceive to be truth is certainly going to be skewed from the perspective of a protagonist with warped sensibilities.

Spider enters the picture slowly, exiting a train and returning onto the streets of  London.  Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: SPIDER (2002)

8. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

Gretchen: “You’re weird.”

Donnie: “Sorry.”

Gretchen: “No, it was a compliment.”

Must See (Theatrical Cut)

-or-
Recommended (Director’s Cut)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Kelly

FEATURING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnel, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Kathryn Ross

PLOT:  Troubled teen Donnie sees visions of a six foot tall demonic bunny rabbit named Frank, who demands that he commit acts of vandalism in a sleepy suburban town in 1988.  Donnie narrowly escapes a freak accident when a jet engine crashes into his bedroom after Frank has awoken him and called him away.  Frank tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, on Halloween night, and Donnie attempts to figure out what he can do to save the world while simultaneously dealing with a new girlfriend, bullies, a motivational speaker he sees as a cult leader, and ever-escalating hallucinations.

donnie_darko

BACKGROUND:

  • This was the first feature film for writer/director Richard Kelly.
  • With Barrymore, Swayze and Ross attached, there was a tremendous buzz for the film going into the Sundance Festival.  The movie was not a hit at there, however, and was only picked up for limited theatrical distribution by Newmarket Films at the last moment.
  • Although Donnie Darko was initially a flop on its domestic release, a strong showing overseas helped it to nearly break even.  The film then became a cult hit on video, earning back more than double its production cost.
  • The director’s cut, containing about 20 minutes of extra footage and including pages from the fictional book “The Philosophy of Time Travel,”  was released in 2004.  It was controversial due to the added footage, which  caused some fans to complain that Kelly didn’t seem to understand his own movie.
  • Kelly created a website (now hosted at donniedarkofilm.com), which is structured like a puzzle.  Navigating the website can reveal supplemental material and backstory to the film.
  • Donnie Darko is one of the most talked about films on the Internet, with several competing fan sites and FAQ’s that attempt to clarify and explain the convoluted plot.
  • Followed by a poorly received direct-to-video sequel about Donnie’s sister called S. Darko (2009), which angered many fans.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Frank, the six-foot tall man dressed in a twisted, metallic bunny suit, who only Donnie can see.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDDonnie Darko at first appears to be a dizzying collision of genres, themes and ideas.  For the first few reels of the film, the audience can have no conception where the film is heading.  The director drops clues through these opening segments that appear at the time to be simply bizarre, but spark numerous “a-ha!” moments later, when incidents that seemed like throwaway moments or coincidences at the first glance turn out to make a sort of sense.  The identity of Frank, the demonic bunny, is the most thrillingly chilling such moment.  Donnie Darko creates a sense of wonder and mystery throughout its running time, and sparks hope and faith in the watcher that all will be made clear before the curtain drops.   It nests this expectancy inside a bed of genuine empathy for tormented Donnie and his colorful cast of supporting characters.  But perhaps the weirdest thing about Donnie Darko is that it asks us to take its plot at face value; it works very hard to try to convince us that what appear on the surface to be the hallucinations of a paranoid schizophrenic teenager are, in fact, real occurrences with a metaphysical explanation.

Original trailer for Donnie Darko

COMMENTS: Even putting the mindbending plot aside for a moment (we’ll come back to Continue reading 8. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

3. REPULSION (1965)

“I hate doing this to a beautiful woman.” -Attributed to cameraman Gil Taylor during the filming of Repulsion

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Catherine Deneuve

PLOT:  At first glance, manicurist Carole (Catherine Deneuve) seems merely to be painfully shy.  The early portions of the film follow her in her daily routine, and we grow to realize that her mental problems go much deeper: she daydreams, she seems to be barely on speaking terms with the outside world, she is dependent on her sister (who wants to have a life of her own) to care for her, and she is repulsed by men.  When her sister goes on a two week vacation, Carole’s fragile condition deteriorates, and we travel inside of her head and witness her terrifying paranoid delusions firsthand.

BACKGROUND:

  • This was director Roman Polanski’s first English language movie, after achieving critical success with the Polish language thriller Nóż w wodzie [Knife in the Water] (1962).  The relatively recent success of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) undoubtedly helped the film’s marketability, as it could be billed as a female variation on the same theme.  But despite dealing with insanity and murder, Polanski’s film turned out nothing like Hitchcock’s classic; whereas Psycho was clearly entertainment first, with horrors meant to thrill like a roller-coaster, Repulsion was relentlessly tense, downbeat and disturbing, strictly arthouse fare.
  • Ethereal Star Catherine Denueve (who had been the lover of, and given her first break in films by, roguish director Roger Vadim) was coming off her first major success in the lighthearted 1964 musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg].  Playing a dangerous, asexual, schizophrenic woman in a role that called for little dialogue immediately after her role as the romantic lead in a musical demonstrated her tremendous range and helped establish her as one of the greatest actresses of the late 1960s and 70s.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  There are many enduring images to choose from, including the hare carcass and simple close-ups of Deneuve’s eyeballs, but the iconic image is Carole walking down a narrow corridor, as gray hands reach out from inside the walls to grope at her virginal white nightgown. (The scene is a sinister variation on a similar image from Jean Cocteau’s surrealist classic Le Belle et La Bette [Beauty and the Beast] (1946)).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Although there are several otherwordly, expressionistic dream sequences in the film, Polanski creates a terribly tense and claustrophobic atmosphere even before the nightmares come with odd camera angles and the strategic use of silence broken by invasive ambient noises. As Carole floats around her empty apartment, silent, alone, and ghostlike, ordinary objects and sounds take on an otherworldly quality. The effect is unlike any other.

Original trailer for Repulsion

COMMENTS:  Polanski begins the film with a close-up of a woman’s eyeball, an opening Continue reading 3. REPULSION (1965)