Tag Archives: Serial killer

CAPSULE: A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell

FEATURING: , Alan Drake, Amara Karan, Paul Freeman

PLOT: A neurotic writer researching a book on serial killers develops a fear of everything (but especially of laundrettes); when he has an important meeting he decides to face his fear and wash his socks.

Still fro, A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bit weird, sure, but in a random, disjointed way, as if the co-directors weren’t sure what to do with the material and kept spinning the film off in a new direction, hoping this next one would lead somewhere.

COMMENTS: As we begin Everything, Jack (the redoubtable Simon Pegg) is a shaggy-headed shut-in who carries a butcher knife everywhere with him to defend against imaginary murderers. A former children’s author, Jack decided to stretch his talents by writing a teleplay about Victorian serial killers; his obsessive research into the insidious poisoning techniques of the Hendon Ogre and his ilk shattered his naturally sensitive temperament and sent him into a seething pit of paranoia. If this sounds like tough subject matter to milk for comedy to you, you’d be right; although, utilizing a combination of superglue and dirty socks, the offbeat script does manage to dredge up some farce from the pit of despair. Two lip-sync dance numbers—a gangsta rap performed by Pegg and an ironic boombox version of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”—cut through the depressive gloom with welcome wackiness, but in general the movie struggles to find a comic tone. Although Pegg’s performance hits the right notes of hysteria, his Jack is so riddled by anxieties that it’s hard to laugh at him. Pegg also spends about a third of the movie in filthy underwear, which is more pathetic and upsetting than funny. Fortunately, there is a lot of extraneous stuff going on to distract us from the movie’s nerve-wracking protagonist—eyeball hallucinations, self-aware Psycho references, paper doll reenactments of famous murders, creepy anthropomorphic stop-animated children’s stories, guided meditation with a pirate psychologist—and thus Everything manages to remain watchable by keeping itself busy.

Everything writer/director Crispian Mills is better known as a musician; he brought in music video specialist and animator Chris Hopewell to help out as a co-director. The uncommonly literary script (full of self-deprecating jokes about the foibles of writers and their similarity to serial killers) is an adaptation of a novella. Pegg seems to have been drawn into the project as part of a push by Pinewood studios to promote low-budget British filmmaking. The hodge-podge of talents and influences here never really coheres, nor is it incoherent in a particularly fascinating way. The movie gets by on bursts of creativity, but never develops the consistently crazy energy it needs. Simon Pegg’s personal draw aside, Everything isn’t much of anything: it’s too strange to be a mainstream success, but not eccentric enough to work as a weird film. It’s a misfit even among would-be cult films.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a singularly bizarre new horror comedy, both exhilarating and frustrating: it allows for Pegg to stretch as an actor, going to some pretty whacked out places, but the film itself ultimately stalls out, leaving a great performance at the heart of a movie most won’t particularly care for.”–Drew Taylor, Indiewire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ALYCE KILLS (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Jay Lee

FEATURING: Jade Dornfeld, Tamara Feldman, , Eddie Rouse, Larry Cedar

PLOT: A young woman unintentionally destroys her best friend while on drugs, then spirals into anti-social behavior, dragging her acquaintances into the dark morass of her twisted psyche.

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WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Like a high-speed bullet train to Hell, Alyce is novel and exciting, but it doesn’t take us somewhere we want to go.

COMMENTS: With a cursory acknowledgment of the Lewis Carrol tale, Alyce Kills is as much an entry-level clerical answer to the Fortune 500’s American Psycho (2000) as it is a morbid odyssey of self discov—uh, make that self-destruction. Young, pert Alyce (Jade Dornfeld) toils away in a depressing corporate cubicle for a shrewish boss at a thankless job. After work she trudges home to her cramped apartment to freshen up before some much-needed steam-venting at dingy nightclubs. It’s not much of a life, but Alyce has her friend Danielle (Rena Owen), an alpha-female whose guidance Alyce relies upon.

When the women take the Generation-X drug “ecstasy,” Danielle leads on Alyce. It comes out that Alyce has a crush on Danielle, but Danielle rejects her.

Is it an accident then when Alyce “accidentally” pushes her friend off the roof a short while later? It’s not clear whether Alyce is vindictive and a little crazy, or merely reckless and irresponsible. Danielle stands on the ledge, tempting fate, and Alyce mock-pushes her. Alyce is playing a game and behaves as if she doesn’t intend the result—Danielle’s dive to the pavement. But Alyce definitely intends to make contact, and under the circumstances it’s no surprise when Danielle plunges to her doom.

Despite the fact that the drug led to tragedy,  Alyce decides she likes ecstasy and trades sex for X from a repulsive dealer. Under the influence of the psychedelic, Alyce locks herself in her apartment for marathon-length trips during which she perpetually masturbates to violent videos. Conniving to obfuscate her complicity in Danielle’s misfortune leads Alyce to take increasing risks, until she pulls out all the stops. Traipsing across an urban landscape of bizarre characters, settings and situations, Alyce taunts the family of her victim, and eventually conspires murder against those who annoy and inconvenience her.

Having now lost Danielle’s boundary-defining structure, Alyce’s fragile veneer of sanity falls away like an uncoupled caboose from a speeding express. Her locomotive throttle is wide open and there’s no engineer in the cab. Alyce resolves to take charge of her own life, but her brand of self-assertive, feminist “empowerment” is to embark upon a self-indulgent journey of risky behavior. Yet it’s more like a spree, and it degenerates into a maelstrom of self destruction, dragging those closest to her along for a hell-ride on her crazy train.

The theme of women scheming against men has been around at least since ancient Greece. From Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” to the Biblical Eve convincing Adam to bite the proverbial apple, we’ve seen versions of the femme fatale in various literary incarnations through the ages. A few examples are Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra; Daniel Defoe’s opportunistic Moll Flanders; Oliver Goldsmith’s lighthearted, scheming Katie Hardcastle from 1773’s “She Stoops To Conquer”; the conniving Matilda in Matthew Gregory’s 1796 supernatural Gothic novel “The Monk: A Romance”; and the malevolent man-hater Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”

Whereas these feminine plotters employed cunning and sexual manipulation to achieve their aims, their modern counterparts resort to brute force. The concept of the fairer sex outwitting men has evolved into the myth of women’s domination over men, and convoluted orchestrations have given way to the karate kicks and machine guns used by characters such as secret agent Emma Peel (Diana Rigg, or Uma Thurman in the 1998 film version) in “The Avengers,” to Max Guevera (Jessica Alba) in TV’s “Dark Angel,” and La Femme Nikita (Anne Parillaud; Bridget Fonda in the US remake). The latest trend has dark-psyched vixens engaging in just plain psychopathic killing sprees.

Alyce‘s quirky but undeveloped character may be inspired by the leads in May (2002) and Neighbor (2009), two similar stories about loner hellcats who indulge their necrophilic and cannibalistic urges through acts of violence. May () commits her violence via a misguided search for an similarly misfit mate; in Neighbor, “The Girl,” (America Olivo) thrill-kills for the sheer sadistic pleasure of it, making a living by robbing her victims and using their homes like motels. Alyce, however, lacks any sensible or even cognizant motivation at all. Her deeds defy logic, her methods are unsound, and Alyce’s lack of planning is sure to bring her only more trouble. We’re not sure if even she understands her actions. This makes her singularly one-dimensional.

The characterization is a profound disappointment, too. What’s engrossing about Alyce’s sexy character is not what she does, but the wry way she does it with her distinctively iconoclastic demeanor. It’s not the revulsion inherent to her wanton acts of sex and violence that catches our attention, but the manner in which her smug, witty bearing holds out the promise of a satisfying payoff. We keep waiting to tumble into an epiphany of insight into her disturbed psyche, or at least some commentary about human nature or revenge. It never happens, and we’re left feeling like the lone passenger on a runaway train with no destination in sight, and no emergency pull-cord to stop the projector.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…might’ve been an invigoratingly gaudy cult classic if Lee’s imagery was more original. Alas, quite a bit of the first hour resorts to standard horror clichés involving dark alleys, strobe lights, and hallucinations of girl corpses with milky white eyes. But the third act is a small triumph, as the requisite violence is a peculiar blend of the cartoonish and the legitimately grisly.”–Chuck Bowen, Slant (contemporaneous)

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Alyce Kills movie trailer

151. RUBBER (2010)

“Quentin will probably lose some people along the way, because he is never demonstrative, doesn’t tell you what you must feel at a particular moment with a little music saying you should laugh or be scared. His vision is absolutely free, it is at once controlled and instinctive, that’s what he stands for, and that gives the spectator great freedom… The spectator feels a little abandoned, he doesn’t know where he is. That will be the main criticism. And yet it is probably Rubber’s greatest asset. The spectator will be contaminated with the film’s freedom.”–producer Gregory Bernard 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Stephen Spinella, , , Wings Hauser

PLOT: To begin the movie, a policeman hops out of a car trunk and explains that “no reason” is the most powerful element of style. We then see a group of people assembled in the desert; a man in a tie hands out binoculars and they are told to train their eyes on the horizon. Through the glasses they watch a tire come to life and observe as it learns to move and blow up heads, eventually stalking a beautiful young woman who ends up in a motel in the middle of nowhere.
Still from Rubber (2010)
BACKGROUND:

  • Quentin Dupieux records electronic music under the stage name “Mr. Ozio.”
  • Music videos aside, Rubber was Dupieux’s third film, after a 45-minute experiment called Nonfilm (2002) and the French-language flop comedy Steak (2007).
  • Dupieux served as the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, sole cameraman, and co-composer of Rubber.
  • Robert the Tire was rigged to move with a remote controlled motor, moving the cylinder like a hamster in a wheel.
  • Rubber cost only $500,000 to make, but made only about $100,000 in theatrical receipts.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, it has to be a shot of Robert, the world’s most lovable and expressive killer tire.  We’ll go with the moment when he is standing in front of a Roxane Mesquida mannequin, tentatively rolling towards her, wondering whether it is a real girl or not. You can almost see the furrows forming in his tread as he mulls the situation over.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Well, it is a movie about an animate tire that kills things by making their heads explode telekinetically. That would be enough for most movies, but Rubber rolls that extra mile by adding a metamovie subplot concerning a Greek chorus/focus group in the desert who watch the action through binoculars and comment on it. What emerges from this collision of slasher-movie spoof and Theater of the Absurd is the most clever, original, and hilarious movie mash-up in recent memory.


Original trailer for Rubber

COMMENTS: Why does Rubber start with an extended monologue, full of examples from classic movies, explaining that the film you are about to see is “an homage to Continue reading 151. RUBBER (2010)

CAPSULE: PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER (2006)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood

PLOT: An apprentice perfumer in pre-Revolutionary France sets out to make the perfect scent, a task that requires him to murder thirteen beautiful virgins.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although its choice of protagonist—an orphaned serial killer with a superhuman sense of smell—certainly proves that Perfume is out of the ordinary, it’s mostly just a period drama punctuated by bursts of black humor, with most of its weirdness concentrated in the orgiastic finale.

COMMENTS: Adapted from Patrick Süskind’s novel of the same name, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer feels like a lavish epic as it traverses 18th century France, stopping to sniff out every scent (good or bad) along the way. German director Tykwer (of Run Lola Run fame) shows us the urban squalor of Paris, the expansive majesty of the countryside, and the perfume mecca of Grasse through the eyes and nose of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Whishaw), our amoral and barely verbal anti-hero.

With his unsurpassed olfactory prowess, Grenouille wonders at all the scents in the world, yet is perpetually enraged: he can’t capture them all, and he lacks a personal scent. As far as his nose is concerned, he’s a cipher, a nonentity. His response to these inner crises is to study the secret art of perfuming under the tutelage of the self-absorbed Baldini (Hoffman), then migrate to Grasse, where he hatches his elaborate, murderous master plan.

This plan forms the centerpiece of the film, as Grenouille kidnaps and kills Grasse’s young maidens one after another, distilling their scents through the technique of enfleurage. Perfume spares little sentiment for the victims, focusing instead on how their deaths contribute to Grenouille’s angelic-smelling magnum opus. The film even juxtaposes Grenouille’s reign of terror with the authorities’ botched investigation in a blackly comic montage, all the better to highlight its anti-hero’s messianic, above-the-law status.

Like any rogue with a rise-and-fall character arc, Grenouille eventually gets arrested and tortured.  But after his solemn march to the town square for crucifixion, Perfume loses all resemblance to other crime thrillers past or present and begins to look like an excerpt from Ken Russell‘s richest, most elegant fantasies. I won’t give away the climactic twist, except to say that it indulges all of the film’s wildest, most spectacular urges.  By the time a drop of perfume falls on a Paris street in the last shot, there’s little for the viewer to do but gape at Tykwer’s mad bravado.

The rest of Perfume isn’t quite so magnificently over-the-top, but Tykwer complements Grenouille’s obsessions by zeroing in on one sensuous piece of period detail after another, all in a futile but nonetheless impressive attempt to visually capture scent. And although Whishaw dominates much of the film, the supporting cast occasionally steals the show: Hoffman provides tragicomic relief as a desperate has-been; Rickman brings his laconic grace to the role of a Grasse nobleman and overprotective father; and John Hurt’s mordant narration frames the whole endeavor as a bleak fairy tale.

Perhaps the greatest irony about Perfume is that although it was a massive, expensive undertaking, it still feels cultish and off the beaten path. It’s so morbid, thorny, and perversely funny that it’s hard to believe it could ever have much mainstream appeal. But imagine sniffing the fumes that would rise if you blended a picaresque costume drama with a slasher movie, then heaped on a thick broth of style.  That, more or less, is Perfume.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a tale whose off-the-charts screwiness obscures virtually all shortcomings.”–Nick Schager, Lessons of Darkness

CAPSULE: DAYDREAM NATION (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Goldbach

FEATURING: , Reece Thompson, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell, Ted Whittall

PLOT: A teenage girl and her dad move to a small town populated with drug-addled teenagers and a mysterious serial killer. Feeling alienated and struggling to make friends, she sees a fellow intellectual outcast in her English teacher and decides to seduce him, while her bumbling classmate Thurston starts to fall for her.

Still from Daydream Nation (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though its dark undertones, nonlinear format, and attempts to comment on the violence and sexiness apparently inherent to small-town teenagers have garnered comparisons to Donnie Darko and Twin Peaks, this is just an angsty, poorly-scripted knockoff with very little true weirdness.

COMMENTS: Narrated by the gorgeous Kat Dennings, who switches back and forth between her recent past and the present, Daydream Nation attempts to mesh poignant high school drama with erratic comedy and suburban darkness.  Caroline, our protagonist, is intelligent and disaffected, often sneaking in awkwardly sophisticated references that her peers don’t understand.  She embarks on a relationship with her teacher on a lark, in an effort to try something new and become a different person for a while; the unstable Mr. Anderson quickly becomes obsessively infatuated with her.  Their relationship falters as Caroline starts responding to the advances of Thurston (Reece Thompson), a druggie classmate mourning the recent death of a friend.  These core proceedings are surrounded by a lingering industrial fire, serial killings, parental interventions, and a ghost or two.

Seemingly shot entirely through a high-contrast haze, the film offers a few visual treats but nothing in the way of ingenuity.  The same can be said for the script, which has a few shining moments of interest but lingers in derivative mediocrity for most of the runtime.  Writer/director Michael Goldbach doesn’t seem to have much confidence in his ability to tell a story, inundating us with unnecessary amounts of narration and several needless plot devices.  The central character of Caroline—while played wonderfully by Kat Dennings—suffers the most. The best parts of the film involve her speaking her mind, calling out the hypocrisy and sexism of those around her, but these scenes are immediately followed by the character chastising herself in private, thinking herself a “bitch” just because she spoke the truth. It’s as if Goldbach wanted to write a strong female character, but then lost his momentum and copped out to typical gender stereotypes.

Daydream Nation aims for subtlety, but comes out with blaring obviousness thanks to the clumsy pacing and script. The performances from Dennings, Thompson, Lucas, and MacDowell are solid, but can’t save the ridiculous dialogue or self-indulgent shooting style (not that I’m complaining about the myriad drawn-out, close-up shots of Dennings, but really, it’s all a bit much). And it isn’t even that weird!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…rolls elements of ‘Juno,’ ‘American Beauty,’ ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ into a potent blunt.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)