Monday, April 24, 2017 09:22

Archive for September, 2011

Troll Hunter a.k.a. Trolljegeren (2011)

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Monster films, welcome back. We’ve missed you – or at least, I speak for myself here, because as much as I get a lot out of psychological horror, hauntings, and even more gritty fare, I was raised on Ray Harryhausen films. Jason and the Argonauts (1963) was one of my favourite things ever, as were any depictions in film (or of course literature and folklore) of weird creatures…it almost goes without saying that a new movie which makes the most of Scandinavian folklore as the basis for its creatures is really going to have to go some to fuck things up. Rest assured that Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren) doesn’t fuck it up – this is a film which finds fun in going to the distinctly non-sanitisied origin of Norwegian troll legends and giving us an up-to-date run in with not just a troll, but different species of troll. Don’t know your Tosserlads (heh) from your Mountain Kings? Look no further.

When a group of student filmmakers set about tracking what they suppose is an illegal bear hunter (Norway has tight restrictions on how many bears can be killed and by whom) they follow him out one night to see what exactly he’s doing. Turns out his name is Hans, he isn’t an illegit hunter, and he’s actually working on secretive government business (with the appropriate forms to prove it). This cynical bunch might not have believed him, had they not seen what he was doing with their own eyes…

Having got this far, Hans begrudgingly agrees that they can keep on filming. He’s sick of the dirty, difficult work and fed up of the secrecy, so he offers for them to get as much footage as they need to prove that trolls exist. All they have to do in return is follow all his instructions. This footage comprises the film itself…

The ‘found footage’ idea is definitely blooming in cinema these days – look anywhere and you’ll see people moaning about it as well, so filmmakers opting to use this format might want to tread carefully if they don’t want to lose their potential audience from the offset. In Troll Hunter, thankfully, it isn’t too obtrusive. Yes, you get people running and plenty of footage of their shoes, but by and large the film is easy to watch and not migraine-inducing through overusing the worst element in found footage - wildly-spinning cameras. It helps that the characters are good, there’s a firm sense of fun (plus that subtle Norwegian sense of humour) and – best of all – the creatures themselves are brilliant.

Director André Øvredal knows just how much to reveal and when to use suggestion, darkness and motion, but don’t take that to imply that you never see the creatures – you do, and hallelujah, CGI is finally starting to get to the point where it really works well. If this film was made on hand-held cameras simply to blow the budget on the effects then I think it’s more than justifiable. Added to this is a genuine sense of pride – expressed in a light-hearted way, but pride nonetheless – in Norwegian folklore. You can often see the point at which indigenous national/local culture and storytelling became demonised by the arrival of Christianity in any given place: in the United Kingdom, lots of standing stones became ‘Devil’s Needles’ or petrified circles of witches to absorb them into the Christian idea of good/evil and castigate the old beliefs which preceded the new religion. Troll Hunter has a lot of fun with what must be a Norwegian equivalent – that trolls are especially cruel to Christians and loathe Christian music – and turns it into a game where the religious come off worse. Not a huge political point, but it was nice to see it in there. Also, Hans (and the veterinary team supporting his work) might be hunting them, but he has a certain level of respect for these creatures, and would never go after them were it not made necessary by them falling sick or straying too far into human-inhabited areas. There’s a healthy distaste for bureaucracy in here, too…

The final thing to say on this film is, trolls or not, this is the best tourism video for Norway I could imagine, and the backdrop of this strikingly-beautiful country has just made me feel more than ever that I need to see it for myself. It’s a nice secondary note for this gratifying creature feature, one which is definitely worth a look. Also, see this version: Hollywood will get its greasy mitts on this soon and bring out an inferior rehash because people can’t manage bloody subtitles…it’s a Norwegian film set in Norway about Norwegian folklore, and as such this is the real deal.

The Human Centipede 2

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

It’s difficult to know what director Tom Six is going to pull out of the bag for The Human Centipede 2; so far, we have only stills of the protagonist…who certainly looks creepy. Creepy, then, but perhaps oddly familiar?

Why is he somehow familiar, then? He definitely is familiar but – how? From TV?

That sitcom! - Waiting for God! The priggish character, Jane! They’re devilish alike…

Ah, right so far! But – Heaven forfend – there’s more to it. There must have been a mate. Who was that mate?

It’s the funny clay businessman from the Tool video for Parabola! Problem solved, then. 90s non-funny UK sitcom + 00s prog metal promo video = upcoming banned horror protagonist, apparently. Who knew?

No wonder the BBFC put their foot down…

Kuroneko (1968)

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

In recent years, the Far East (particularly Japan and South Korea) has provided Western audiences with a previously-untapped wealth of folklore, culture and story-telling which quickly formed the bedrock of a new horror genre. Rue Morgue magazine coined the term ‘J-horror’: whatever you want to call it though, the opening of these floodgates meant that what was at first fresh and interesting soon became rather stale and formulaic, at least in part because we saw so much of it so quickly. But then, we were seeing a lot of second-rate derivative material – no film industry is immune to lazy opportunism – and we shouldn’t forget that when Far Eastern horror is good, it’s very good. Its popularity has probably also helped us gain access to otherwise-unknown gems such as Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko, a subtle and atmospheric ghost story.

The film takes place in the troubled Sengoku period in Japan’s history: during this time the country was in a constant state of flux and conflict, with rival daimyo (barons) seeking to extend their influence over one another. This led to a serious need for samurai, and young men – like Gintoki (Kitchiemon Nakamura) – being forcibly removed from their homes to go and fight. When Gitoki is taken, it leaves his mother Yone and his young wife Shige unprotected and alone. The women (in an understated but powerful sequence) are then raped and killed by a group of samurai.

The women – dying in a state of anger and fear, which modern audiences might recognise as a plot motif from The Grudge (2002) – return as vengeful revenants which seem to have no direct equivalent in Western folklore. They’re phantoms, but they exhibit vampiric behaviour too as they fulfil the conditions of their eternal life: they must kill samurai, and they do it by charming, seducing – and then draining the blood from their bodies. However, when Gintoki returns from war as a fully-fledged samurai, the female creatures reveal that they have human consciences too. They still love him, but he now belongs to a social class they exist to destroy. Gintoki himself has been charged by his daimyo with ridding the town of the murderous spirits who are murdering his best men. An encounter is therefore inevitable…

This is an immensely artistic piece of cinema, with atmosphere in abundance. From the archaic costumes and interiors (which reminded me in places of kabuki theatre) to the use of shadow, pitch-black darkness and transparent/opaque fabrics, this is a film in which every scene looks carefully constructed and balanced. The fact that it’s shot in black and white adds a starkness to the appearance of the film which works very well. The women themselves balance beauty and creepiness, appearing like demure dolls out of the groves but communicating purpose and menace with a simple look. There’s a depth to these characters too because they are ambiguous; despite being dangerous, they retain their human feelings and remind each other that they are obliged to act the way they do by a ‘contract’, something which causes Shige in particular great pain. Yet, they will defend themselves if challenged with a display of their supernatural power, and they dispatch samurai savagely. These aren’t simply two-dimensional villains. The arrival of Gintoki renders things more problematic for them, and drives the film towards a tragic conclusion.

Ultimately, this is what I found so affecting about Kuroneko: although this is a fantastical, theatrical piece of cinema, at its heart it’s a deeply sad story of war, alienation and loss. The fact of its being a supernatural yarn never detracts from that. Behind the – genuinely creepy – haunting there is context. With its blend of harsh imagery and tone with real aesthetic brilliance, I’ve never quite seen a film like Kuroneko. I will definitely be seeking out Onibaba, a film by the same director.