Tag Archives: 2002

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SUICIDE CLUB (2002)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Saya Hagiwara

PLOT: A shocking mass suicide in a train station attracts the attention of the police and a curious hacker who may have found a link to the seemingly random act.

Still from Suicide Club (2002)


WHY IT MIGHT NAKE THE LIST: This exercise in the Japanese new school of shock horror does not have enough substance to be considered extremely weird.  There are moments that light up the screen with an inspired energy that recalls the best horror-thrillers.  Yet, like a Noh theater performance, Suicide Club chooses to keep actual events close to the chest, relying on long pauses and slow takes to create the mood . Noh theater has dancing and music to fill up the entire performance, though; Suicide Club languishes with scenes that are filled with empty silence and shots that mean nothing.

COMMENTSSuicide Club is the odd story of one country’s affinity for self-termination, represented by a strange and tragic mass suicide in a train station.  Why this happens is never explained in a way that leaves one satisfied, but such is the state of the high suicide rate in Japan, and, to be fair, to ask why is almost besides the point. The point seems to be the journey into the strange underbelly of Tokyo and the detectives who must investigate the suicides by journeying into that hoary netherworld.

Well, the detectives and their sole lead, the idiosyncratic hacker Miyoko– I’m sorry, “The Bat”– who has a strong fascination with the tragedy.  This fascination drags her from the safety of her malicious computer activities to a world where secret messages are written in human skin and dropped off at hospitals and where J-Pop groups wield a heady authority over an unassuming generation.  As she becomes wound up in this mystery that seems to go deeper than anyone could have imagined, a youth named Mitsuko also becomes involved when her boyfriend commits suicide.  She too falls into the web of what is appearing more and more to be a sort of suicide club (how titular!) whose members might even be unaware of their membership.   And the deeper she falls, the closer she comes to realizing that she might even be in this unfortunately named club…

But this is all told through the visual narrative, because dialogue is in extremely short supply in this mannered horror exercise.  As is character development.  Or much of anything, really.  Suicide Club is a very visual film, told through a Morse code string of images that reads normal-normal-normal-weird! And when the images are strange or grotesque, the audience becomes intrigued and downright enthused.  But during the slow mood-building scenes, the movie falters in the wake of the sterile, lifeless Tokyo Sono sets up.  It surrounds and eclipses most moments of tension, replacing the anxiety with a vague sense of ennui that does not behoove a horror-thriller.

There are moments of inspired lunacy in Suicide Club that set it apart from the rest of the Japanese formalists, and if you can make it to the middle of the film where we meet the conspicuous character named Genesis, then your patience has truly paid its due diligence, because the film rolls along by then with images too weird and too delightful to spoil for you.  And Suicide Club feels meticulously fabricated in its down time, where the details brim forth from a lack of any real action; seemingly trivial things like the posters hanging up in Mitsumo’s boyfriend’s room are very well designed and hold little clues to the secret waiting at the end.  When it wants to be, Suicide Club has the potential to be a very good weird movie.

So give it a shot.  Suicide Club is worth trying, even if you find it to be a failure.  It’s a labyrinthine horror-thriller with a touch of mystery that will have you guessing, even if the mystery has no real bearing on what actually happens at the end.  Sono delivers what might be one of the only minimalist conspiracy movies, and on that note alone, it’s worth a gander.  Suicide Club is a valiant effort and a weird movie, just not often enough to make it something special.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Sono has been making weird, formalist indie films for more than a decade, but [Suicide Club] represents a shift into weird, free-form exploitation. None of it makes any real sense, but it sure does keep you watching.”–Time Out Film Guide

BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH (2002)

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance, Catherine Coulson

PLOT: A series of six short films spanning director David Lynch’s career from the

Still from The Short Films of David Lynch

1960s through the 1990s.  We track Lynch from his early years as a highly experimental student to a macabre master of the darkly surreal with these films that show a man who needed to grow and challenge himself as a creative force.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: As collections of short films go, this is one of the most mercurial and hard-to-peg I’ve ever seen.  There’s really no denying the odd nature of Lynch’s efforts.  The first film alone, a minute-long animated loop of six hideous plaster sculptures throwing up,  stands as a timeless testament to Lynch’s nightmarish creative vision.  And the gut-wrenching scope of his silent feature, entitled “The Grandmother”, is a window into the mind of a radically different artist than the one Lynch has become.  But, honestly, the quality and sheer atmosphere present in most of Lynch’s features feels absent here, and there’s not enough memorable material to consider this a momentous release.

COMMENTS:  Much like a renowned painter or an extremely colorful luchador, a filmmaker’s work becomes more lionized as his fame grows, even his mistakes.  David Lynch is a very famous filmmaker, so it’s only appropriate that this assortment of short subjects should come out to cement his status as an iconic artist and a true visionary in the world of the nightmarish and the utterly bizarre.  But those die-hard fans of the man who seek a diamond in the rough here, a Pollack behind the frame of this small cache of movies, will likely find themselves disappointed, or at the very least conflicted.

If short films represent the transformation of a filmmaker as as he/she goes from one project to another, this gathering of shorts spanning Lynch’s career is a shadowy, rocky road.  Half of these films don’t desire to be much more than insubstantial experiments, hokey dumping grounds for ideas that are really just there to try something out.  They merely exist in a tangible form for the consumer because of the marketable name of Lynch, not because they actually have some sort of deliciously demented merit and are worth seeing for any length of time.  And while the three that are good are indeed very good, it’s easy to put this one on the borderline with the vibes I get from the other three.

Let’s break it down by feature, shall we?

“Six Figures getting Sick (Six Times)” – A minute long film loop featuring a set of six Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH (2002)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van

FEATURING: Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)

<: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTS: In My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition. It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction. The lead character seeks psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open. Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury. She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment. When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement. At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: HAPPY HERE AND NOW (2002)

Review writing contest #1 winner, by Pamela De Graff.

DIRECTED BY: Michael Almereyda

FEATURING: Clarence Williams III, David Arquette (who also co-produced), Ally Sheedy, former super model Shalom Harlow, model Gloria Reuben, Karl Geary, rhythm and blues star Ernie K-Doe

PLOT: Happy Here and Now is a surrealistic satire in which a young woman tries to find

Still from Happy Here and Now (2002)

her missing sister by investigating eccentric New Orleans characters who are entangled in a web of cyber-intrigue.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Happy Here and Now is a dream-like atmosphere piece which artfully combines unusual visual and acoustic elements. This movie is unusual in its story telling structure. It guides us through a netherworld of oddball people, their cryptic actions and strange gadgets via a series of vignettes that are ultimately connected.

COMMENTS: In this quirky odyssey, Canadian actress Liane Balaban plays Amelia. She has come to New Orleans to locate a missing sister who has erased every trace of herself. Clarence Williams III plays a limping ex CIA agent with an unexplained leg wound that just won’t heal.

Williams forensically dissects the sister’s laptop hard drive. He finds traces of cryptic conversations held online with a poetic but sinister misfit (Karl Geary). The stranger uses a special technology to change his real-time appearance and country of origin on webcam-conference.

Amelia attempts to determine the presence of a connection between the late night Internet chats and her sister’s disappearance. She does so with Thomas’ assistance by contacting Geary’s puzzling character and conducting a fresh set of webcam conversations. What are his motives, what is he truly capable of? Why does he change his appearance and answer questions with questions?

Did this enigmatic stranger lure Amelia’s sister to her fate in a snuff film? Amelia must figure out how to trace and outwit him by playing a game of deception online.

Throughout her quest for answers, Amelia encounters a cascade of artistic dilettantes. One of several exceptions is the real-life Ernie K-Doe, famous for his 1961 number one hit, “Mother-in -Law,” who appears as himself in his actual New Orleans club.

Nearly all of the characters are in some way unknowingly interconnected via a subplot orchestrated by David Arquette’s character, Eddie Mars. Mars is a creatively misguided, self-employed exterminator who entwines the protagonists via a film project. It is a soft-porn, direct-to-digital Internet film about a time traveling Nicola Tesla. (And there might be some termites and a spherical fire breaking out in a space station, he hasn’t decided yet.)

Happy Here and Now is a dream-like atmosphere piece which artfully combines unusual visual and acoustic elements. It highlights a smattering of New Orleans lore and culture. Thomas’ character weaves a narrative of local lore as the camera pans by local cemeteries, barbecue joints, The Napoleon House, and a few other unconventional landmarks. We get a nice sample of New Orleans homes and interiors, blues clubs, fauna, and steamy avenues by streetlight. Odd characters such as man wearing Napoleonic clothing wander the streets.

The film is open-ended as to its message. Enthusiasts of movies that conclude with a concrete sense of finality should look at Happy Here and Now as being a piece that is intended to inspire the imagination.

The film features musician, performance artist and electronics whiz “Quintron” (Robert Rolston’s stage name) as himself. Quintron has distinguished himself in arcane circles for, among other things, inventing clever but peculiar electronic musical instruments. One of his Tesla coils is featured in the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Strange by even its director’s ultra-eccentric standards, Happy Here and Now takes Michael Almereyda’s usual reality-blurring, video-mediated experimentation to new what-the-f*** levels…” -David Ng, The Village Voice (2005)

CAPSULE: THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Mark Pellington

FEATURING: Richard Gere

PLOT:  A Washington Post reporter loses his wife in an automobile accident,

mothman_prophecies

then finds himself spirited away to a West Virgina town where the residents are spotting monsters and undergoing horrifying precognitive hallucinations.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not weird enough.  Taking its cues from parapsychology and cryptozoology, and positioning itself as a “true story,” The Mothman Prophecies paranoidly posits a world where omniscient Mothmen are simply a part of the natural order.  I wouldn’t want to dishonor the producer’s sincere “the truth is out there” vision by suggesting there’s something a little weird about it.  On a more serious note, The Mothman Prophecies is an effective chiller with a mildly unique spin on a conventional horror yarn that generates enough unease to make it worth checking out for fans of the eerie side of the weird, but it’s ultimately too lightweight and conventional to be more than a passing diversion.

COMMENTS: Director Mark Pellington, who previously explored themes of conspiracy and paranoia in the thriller Arlington Road, translates his talents to horror well and does a very fine job of pleasantly chilling the viewer’s blood through the early segments of the Mothman Prophecies.  Unexplained occurrences, from an impossible car detour that lands our protagonist on the Ohio border with West Virginia to a yokel who swears he’s been visited by Richard Gere before, pile on top of each other until the viewer is pleasantly on edge and disoriented.  When the antagonist is eventually revealed, his powers verge on the omnipotent and his motives lie firmly in the realm of the inscrutable.  The conclusion ties things up in a nice little bow–sort of, because all the pieces resolved belong to subplots.  The central mystery of  the Mothman is never even touched, which frustrated viewers who crave nothing more than narrative cohesion but shouldn’t bother weirdophiles a bit.  Despite its silly premise, Mothman is a highly effective unease-generating machine, which is (or at least, should have been) its only aspiration. 

The “based on a true story” angle is patently a scam.  Although it’s true that there were “Mothman” sightings in West Virginia in the 1960s and a bridge collapsed soon thereafter, anyone who doesn’t recognize the convenient presence of an attractive romantic foil for Richard Gere and the archetypal visit to the reclusive old wizard for a bit of exposition and dire warnings as the work of a screenwriter rather than a documentarian probably should be permanently ineligible for jury duty.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…thriller that purports to be based on true events but operates in that bombastic plane of reality reserved for the apocalyptic horror movie.”–Jan Stuart, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Andrzej Sekula

FEATURING: Kari Matchett

PLOT: Just as in the 1997 surprise hit, eight strangers wake up stripped of

cube_2_hypercube

their memories in a mysterious, deadly cube composed of indistinguishable rooms–but this second generation “hypercube” has some new tricks to play on its captives.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTCube 2: Hypercube can get pretty weird, especially when the film throws in gratuitous alternate realities in an attempt to up the original Cube‘s ante.  The sequel also does a fair-to-middling job of recreating the atmosphere of paranoia and existential anxiety from the original.  The first movie is a classic, but if there is to be room for more than one Cube movie on the list of 366, Hypercube needs to take the series in a startling, original new direction.  This, it fails to do; the sequel merely attempts to provide this audience more of what they loved about the first movie.  It can’t possibly achieve this feat, however, because what people loved about the original was it’s originality: the shock and surprise of finding a low-budget independent science fiction gem that was thoughtful, exciting, and weird.

COMMENTSCube 2: Hypercube is of interest mainly to fans of the original who want to revisit the cube and hope only for a few new twists.  The CGI special effects are mildly upgraded, and the cube has a new gleaming white color scheme, which may make some happy.  One of the things that made the original so exhilarating, however, was the varying reactions of characters to the predicament of being trapped inside the bizarre structure: some fight to survive, some give up hope, some become paranoid and suspect their fellow travelers know something about the cube and are trying to deceive them, some simply go mad.  The way the trapped inmates bounced off one another made Cube at times seem more like a character-centered play rather than an effects-centered movie.  Although Cube 2 tires to recapture this interplay, wooden acting from several of the leads frustrates the attempt.

Cube 2: Hypercube also stumbles when it takes baby steps towards trying to explain why the cube exists.  In the original, although the structure exhibited signs of order that suggested a diabolical intelligence behind it, there was no unambiguous hint to its origin or purpose; this made the cube a powerful metaphor for brute existence.  While trying to recapture the ambiance of the first movie, Cube 2 deliberately takes steps towards demolishing its essence.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Cube 2 is somewhat more gimmicky and certainly less conceptually neat than the first Cube was. There’s lot of fascinatingly weird happenings and these are all eventually given an explanation – alas not one that comes with the beautiful sense of a puzzle falling into place that we saw in the first film. The disparity can clearly be seen in comparing the story structure of the two – the first film has the logic of a detective story unfolding, whereas Cube 2 is merely a flight through a collapsing labyrinth.” –Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Movie Review Site