Archive for the Mystery Category

Oldboy

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on April 3, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Spike Lee.
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, James Ransone, Max Casella, Pom Klementieff, Lance Reddick, Richard Portnow, Linda Emond, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek, Hannah Ware, Hannah Simone, Ciera Payton, Elvy Yost.

Heaven make me free of it. The rest is silence.”

Park Chan Wook’s 2004 Korean original of “Oldboy” is one of the most visceral and emotionally devastating thrillers that you’re ever likely to find. As a result, it totally baffled me when I heard about the intentions for an English language remake. I don’t care how much of an impressive cast or crew were assembled, as far as I see it, there really isn’t anything else that could have been brought to treading this ground again. Now that I’ve seen Spike Lee’s version, I stand by that even more. This was a completely pointless exercise.

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Prisoners

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, thriller with tags on December 17, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Borde, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, David Dastmalchian, Wayne Duvall.

Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst“.

In 2011, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. For that, he depicted a family that ventured on a journey of discovery. In “Prisoners“, Villeneuve turns his eye to another bleak family drama where ‘discovery’ is, once again, the driving force behind his characters’ motivations.

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The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Juan José Campanella.
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella.
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, José Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo.

The 2010 Academy Awards category for Best Foreign Language film contained some strong contenders with the likes of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon“; two films that could easily have laid claim to the award. However, it was this film that crept up from under their noses and took the Oscar. Whether or nor you pay any credence to the Oscars is neither here nor there as there’s no doubt that this is solid and absorbing filmmaking.

In 1999, retired criminal justice officer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darìn) decides to write a novel about a murder case that he investigated in 1974. He decides to visit his old colleague Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to talk it over. The case had repercussions for everyone involved but Benjamin didn’t realise the direct effect it had on him or his deep, suppressed feelings for Irene.

With a title like “The Secret In Their Eyes“, this film states it’s intentions and stands by them. Director Juan José Campanella lingers long on shots and wisely focuses on the eyes of his performers. For a film that’s predominately dialogue driven, the abundance of close-up’s add another dimension where the eyes speak a thousand words. It’s a great technique that conveys a myriad of hidden meanings in the relationship between the two main characters, Benjamin and Irene. However, this relationship is not entirely apparent from the off-set. It’s only when the film’s layers are revealed that this comes to the surface, as in the meantime you’re too preoccupied with it’s murder-mystery plot developments. This mystery progresses into a manhunt, while taking time to explore the judicial system and political corruption that was rife in Argentina in 1970′s. It’s during this, that Campanella takes advantage of the thriller element in the story, delivery an absolutely astounding and very skilfully handled tracking shot through a football stadium, leading to an impressively assembled chase sequence. Just how they managed to do it is beyond me and needs to be seen to be believed. There are many moments of intensity when it matters (including a nerve-racking elevator moment that’s hard to forget) but it also knows how to ground itself and that’s were the performances come in; Ricardo Darin is a charismatic presence who more than holds your interest with unshakable ideals and a strong moral compass, while Soledad Villamil delivers a strong and reserved show. It’s the chemistry between these two wonderful actors that play a big part in the film’s, effortless, tonal shifts. It’s also not without humour or tragedy which is provided by Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s alcoholic, but loyal and reliable colleague, Pablo.
Quite simply, it’s easy to see why this film took the Oscar, it’s has a bit of everything; a sharp and involving script that pays great attention to detail; skilful direction; rich cinematography and natural, committed performances.

A complex tapestry about life, love and chances rued, that’s built around the constructs of a thriller. It excels in everything it challenges and that’s exactly where it’s strengths lie.

Mark Walker

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In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery with tags on April 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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Berberian Sound Studio * * * 1/2

Posted in Horror, Mystery with tags on March 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Strickland.
Screenplay: Peter Strickland.
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancini, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro, Suzy Kendall, Hilda Péter, Layla Amir, Eugenia Caruso, Chiara D’Anna, Lara Parmiani.

This second feature from director Peter Strickland (following “Katalin Varga” in 2009) is certainly an interesting bag of mixed opinions. Some have claimed it to be a five star experience, while others simply didn’t get it. I suppose it depends a lot on your approach beforehand but there’s no mistaking that it’s one of those film’s where you’re left to make up your own mind.

An experienced British sound-engineer is hired to work on a low-budget Italian horror movie called “Equestrian Vortex”. Throughout his work, he struggles with the language-barrier and constant exposure to horror movie images and finds himself drawn into a vortex all his own, as he begins to lose his grasp on reality.

The thing that strikes you most from this film when it opens is it’s good sense of atmosphere. It possess an almost strange sepia tint, as if the proceedings have been desaturated. There’s a permeating feeling dread and unease that courses through it as, time itself, seems to stroll by. Strickland is certainly in no rush to tell his story and he also abandons any conventional method in doing so; a good chunk of the dialogue is in Italian and there’s a deliberate omission of subtitles. This may put some people off but it serves to create an understanding and affiliation with the loneliness and isolation of the protagonist, Gilderoy (played brilliantly by Toby Jones). Although deliberate, and an interesting method, I also found it somewhat frustrating. What’s also very interesting is that the story takes shape in the sound that’s provided for film’s rather than the images. How many times have you ever seen a horror movie that relies solely on audio rather than visual? Cabbages are stabbed and plunged into water to provide the perfect accompanying sound of someone being stabbed or drowned. It’s an interesting insight and the suggestion of horror is actually captured very well using this approach. When we do, eventually, see the images that have been getting dubbed, it throws the film into a completely new surrealistic direction that shares similarities with the mind-bending talents of David Lynch and his art imitating life theme of “Inland Empire” or “Mulholland Drive“. Of course, thats where the similarity ends as Strickland doesn’t have the ability to construct his story with any real meaning in the way that Lynch excels at. I’m no stranger to surreal cinema, in fact I love it, but this leaned a little too far to self-indulgence for me.
Anyone familiar with the ‘Giallo’ horrors of Italian cinema during the 60′s and 70′s will, no doubt, take a lot more from this film than I did. That being said, there’s no denying it’s grasp on atmosphere and it’s impressive ability to build tension. However, as our protagonist becomes increasingly withdrawn and descends in madness, we descend into obscurity without any real satisfying conclusion. For me, the film just ended. I was aware of it’s nature and prepared for any subtext or symbolism that it might throw my way, but in the end, it didn’t quite come together. I was hoping for a more satisfying conclusion.

It’s certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. For some, it will bore. For others, it will confuse. However, if your open minded enough, it will draw you in. Basically, it’s an art-house horror that can either be seen as pretentious clap trap or an astute homage. I, strangely, find myself somewhere in between.

Mark Walker

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JFK * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on September 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Oliver Stone.
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, John Candy, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Vincent D’Onofrio, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Beata Pozniak, Sally Kirkland, Brian Doyle-Murray, Wayne Knight, Tony Plana, Tomas Milian, Gary Grubbs, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dale Dye, Bob Gunton, Sean Stone, Jim Garrison.

Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to biopics or documentaries covering the lives of influential or powerful people. He has looked into the lives of Vietnam veteran and political activist Ron Kovic in “Born On The Fourth Of July“; Jim Morrison, the lead singer of “The Doors“; military general and conquerer “Alexander” the great; Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in “Comandante” and two films on the exploits of American presidents Richard “Nixon” and George “W.” Bush. In the films mentioned, Stone explores the lives of these men but in “JFK” he does the opposite and explores the death of the man and in the process, crafts one of his most accomplished films.

In Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. The official explanation released by the F.B.I. doesn’t make sense and is very suspicious. As a result, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) decides to investigate and uncovers a dangerous conspiracy that may involve more than he could ever have imagined.

Oliver Stone has done his homework here and bombards the audience with facts, theories and reports from the media, interviews and eyewitness testimonies. He covers the history of events right across the board from the Bay of Pigs to the Warren Report via the questionable marksmanship of “lone gunman” Lee Harvey Oswald. Whether or not you agree with Stone’s theories is of little importance. What is of great importance is his ability to pose serious questions on one of the most tragic political events and biggest conspiracies in American history. It could easily come across that Stone (or Garrison) have all the answers but they don’t. This is a film that endeavours to get to the root of the truth. Many questions will remain unanswered but it’s also not the type of film that claims to provide them. Some information is pure speculation but the very place where Stone succeeds is his ability to instil debate. He welcomes it and the film is far more powerful because of it. It’s a tangled web that has been weaved and Stone deserves the utmost respect in tackling it head on. What’s most impressive though is that it’s never boring. With all the details, it could be in danger of losing the audiences attention but it doesn’t and this is thanks-in-large to editor’s Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing in skilfully piecing all the fragmented narrative strands together. They won an Oscar for their work and deservingly so. Another deserving Oscar winner was cinematographer Robert Richardson for his marvellous attention to detail in capturing the look and feel of the 1960′s. Amongst the the brisk pace and attention to detail is an abundant cast of quality actors and no matter how small the role, each of them get a chance to shine; Gary Oldman makes a perfect Oswald and other notable displays from Kevin Bacon, Joe Pesci, John Candy, Donald Sutherland and an Oscar nominated turn from Tommy Lee Jones as eccentric socialite, Clay Shaw. It’s Costner who is the main focus here though and he delivers a solid and determined performance. More importantly, he’s an appealing presence which is very much required when the film steps over the 3 hour mark. He captures the obsession of Garrison and in a lot of ways makes it our own; his dogged determination for answers reflecting ours. When all the dust has settled, the film culminates into a conventional court room drama but still remains riveting. It’s during this time – despite some already shocking revelations earlier in the film – that Stone finishes with aplomb and takes his chance to disclose some staggering pieces of information.

A conspiracy theorists dream, that may take some criticism for being hypothetical or one-sided but there’s no denying Stone’s bravery or his skill in encapsulating the paranoia and unrest at this time in history.

Mark Walker

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Red Lights * * *

Posted in Mystery, thriller with tags on September 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Rodrigo Cortes.
Screenplay: Rodrigo Cortes.
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, Craig Roberts, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Burn Gorman, Jeany Spark, Karen David.

With his English language debut “Buried” in 2010, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes proved that he could handle tension with limited resources. This follow up has him with a slightly bigger budget and some hefty weight behind him in the acting stakes. Again he proves more than capable in his abilities to build suspense and intrigue but fails miserably in bringing his story to a satisfactory conclusion.

Doctor’s Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) work in a scientific field where they investigate paranormal activities and expose the charlatans who are out to make a quick buck. So far so good, until Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro), a renowned psychic, who disappeared 30 years ago, comes out of retirement to make another public appearance. His abilities are said to be very powerful and the doctor’s decide to take him on and expose him but the last critic who tackled him, died under mysterious circumstances.

With a confident hand Cortes sets his stall up well and builds the tension slowly and assuredly. In the beginning he focuses solely on his two solid leads in Murphy and Weaver before teasingly introducing an enigmatic DeNiro as they all scramble around a script that comes off as an episode of the “The X-Files“. The trouble is, the material has about the same staying power as a 50min episode of that series and doesn’t nearly deliver as much satisfaction as the investigations of Mulder and Scully. It’s in the final third that the film starts to crack under it’s own weight and expectations and it becomes apparent that Cortes never really knew how to tie this story together in the first place. This is the most frustrating thing about this film as it certainly has a grip on you and keeps you at just the right length to maintain your interest. Realistically, it could only end two ways; either it’s a hoax or… erm… it isn’t. Once you realise this, it dawns on you that you might not be satisfied with either. But Cortes is also aware of this and as a result tries to pull the rug from under your feet. As it is, it’s one sleight-of-hand too many as he introduces a twist that goes against everything you’ve seen before. All the events are tenuously linked together in an unravelling that is, quite frankly, preposterous and fails to convince. The three leads in Murphy, Weaver and DeNiro do what they can with the material but ultimately their talents are wasted. As are the talented likes of Joely Richardson and Toby Jones in thankless roles. It’s not a complete right-off as, for the most part, the material is there and the premise very intriguing but it falls shamefully short and instead of being poor it’s, simply just frustrating.

At one point in the film, Murphy’s character says “The only way to pull a rabbit out a hat is to put it there first“. Well, the same applies to Cortes; he certainly isn’t as clever as he thinks he is and if he wants to pull off a good twist, he has to put a decent script there first.

Mark Walker

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Bug * * * *

Posted in Horror, Mystery with tags on August 24, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: William Friedkin.
Screenplay: Tracy Letts.
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne.

When Bug was released in 2006, I all but ignored it, thinking it was going to be nothing more than a cheap, straight to DVD horror flick with giant cannibalistic ants and shit. It wasn’t until I took notice of actor Michael Shannon that the film resurfaced again and found it’s way onto my ‘to see list’. I took me a while to get a hold of it though and as a result it fell off my radar again until I was reminded of it recently. Now, I’m glad to say that I have seen it and it wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. It far exceeded my expectations.

Agnes (Ashley Judd) is lonely woman who moves into a rundown motel to escape her husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr) who has just been released from prison. She is introduced to eccentric drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) who seems to be hiding something and is prone to the occasional conspiracy theory. Not before long, things start to unravel as a bug infestation takes over the motel room.

Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also writes the screenplay) and set largely within the confines of a remote motel room, it’s easy to see why this material would have played well on stage. It’s claustrophobic atmosphere is captured straight away by Friedkin and his unsteady camerawork lends a perfect sense of unease within the characters and their confined space. It begins slowly building with a gradual pace but with the arrival of an on-edge and abusive Connick, Jr and an unsettling and creepy turn from Shannon, the pace escalates to one of unbearable and visceral intensity. This is less of a gory horror and more of a psychological, character driven chamber piece that benefits from three brilliant performances. Unsurprisingly, it’s Shannon who once again stands out. He’s an actor that possesses a natural intensity and this is a role that’s fully suited to his abilities. In fact, it might even be Shannon’s finest performance and that’s saying something. However, it could also be seen as to why Shannon has now, seemingly, been type-cast as a loon-ball. Particularly impressive is Friedkin’s handling of the material though and how it grips with a plot that’s entirely unexpected while exploring the heavy issues of psychological trauma, emotional dependency and delusional paranoid schizophrenia. It’s only towards the end that the film starts to show it’s faults. It does contain a lot of ambiguity but it’s rushed and plot holes do become apparent at this time. So much so that a couple of characters appear and disappear without explanation.

This will not appeal to everyone and those expecting an out-and-out horror will probably be disappointed but if you enjoy your horrors in a more cerebral, psychological fashion, then this certainly delivers.

Mark Walker

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My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done * *

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on August 19, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Werner Herzog.
Screenplay: Werner Herzog, Herbert Golder.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Udo Kier, Michael Pena, Grace Zabriskie, Irma P. Hall, Loretta Devine, Brad Dourif.

Sometimes a film comes along that although it hasn’t received a wide release or even a reasonable marketing campaign, it can capture your attention by the very people involved. This has prestigious director Werner Herzog; the go-to-man for troubled souls Michael Shannon; a host of talented supporting roles including the always reliable Willem Dafoe and it’s executive-produced by surreal transcendentalist David Lynch. I thought it’s lack of attention was maybe because the film was a stinker or maybe it was just a cult classic waiting to be discovered. Now that I know, I’d unfortunately put the film’s relative obscurity in the former category.

Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon) is a strange young man living in San Diego. One day, unexpectedly, he kills his mother with a sword and locks himself away in his home, claiming to have hostages. Detectives Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and Vargas (Michael Pena) arrive on the scene to get to the bottom of Brad’s seemingly sudden act of lunacy.

As this film opens it’s apparent, early on, that it’s going to go in a different direction. The use of music is eerie and the behaviour of the characters very off-key but then that’s entirely expected when David Lynch’s name appears on the opening credits. It even has a few of Lynch’s regular cast members in Dafoe, Brad Dourif and Grace Zabriskie but the most apparent thing that separates this from Lynch’s efforts is the absence of haunting composer Angelo Badalamenti. Without him, it’s just not the same. There are several moments to be admired and those moments are mainly fashioned with a Lynchian wierdness but it’s an ability that Herzog just can’t get a handle on here. Even though Lynch is weird, he is never boring but Herzog certainly comes across this way. Despite it’s intriguing atmosphere and sense of mystery, I found myself losing interest and losing it rapidly. The performances – as expected – are great and Michael Shannon adds another intense and off-beat character to his résumé but the tone and poor script let down any impressive work delivered onscreen. In fact, if it wasn’t for the reliable cast, I’d rate this even lower than I have. As an exploration of mental health culminating into Greek tragedy, it’s ambitious but the sheer strangeness of it all just falls flat.
In the same year, Herzog released “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” which was an another exploration of one man’s insanity but as impressive as that was, he doesn’t achieve the same balance with this one. I always knew I was taking a chance going into this but I really didn’t expect it to be as bad as it turned out to be. I held onto the fact that this it may have been misunderstood but I was, sadly, mistaken.

As the old proverb goes… ‘too many cooks spoil the broth‘; this might have worked better had either Lynch or, especially, Herzog had a clearer idea of what they were delivering. On this occasion I’ll be changing Werner’s name to ‘Herz-slog’. What he was formulating, I was receiving on a badly tuned frequency.

Mark Walker

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The Skin I Live In * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on August 16, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Pedro Almodovar.
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar, Agustin Almodovar.
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Blanca Suarez.

Any time I approach a film by director Pedro Almodovar, I know straight away that I’ll have to pay attention. He explores difficult and heavy themes but does them with such style and attention to detail that his craftsmanship cannot be ignored. For anyone wondering whether he achieves the same level of quality with this recent effort, then wonder no more. He does and more so.

Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a plastic surgeon who has perfected a new form of artificial skin. The problem with Ledgard though, is that he’s not entirely healthy of mind and as a test subject, he holds Vera (Elena Anaya) captive in his home to conduct his experiments. However, the arrival of a wanted criminal makes an appearance at his home which brings forth the dark history of the doctor and patient and how they came to be in their current situation.

Something that I have always tried to avoid when writing down my thoughts on a film is treading into spoiler territory. This is certainly one of those films that’s difficult to write about without giving away major parts of the plot. Suffice to say, Almodovar himself described the film as “a horror story without screams or frights” that was loosely based on the novel “Tarantula” by French writer Thierry Jonquet and inspired by Georges Franju’s 1960 film “Eyes Without a Face“. It also has an odd David Lynch feel to it, or more to the point, Lynch’s daughter Jennifer and her 1993 movie “Boxing Helena” (much more accomplished than that of course) In different hands this film could have fell into torture porn territory and ended up hitting the straight to DVD slasher shelf but with Almodovar at the helm, it takes on a whole new shape and form. His ability to construct an elaborate narrative cannot be questioned and he commands an audiences attention, while teasingly, revealing the layers to his story. Quite simply, he’s an artist! That statement alone should be enough to simplify this highly creative director’s impressive catalogue. Scenes are shot with such an eye for detailed beauty that you’d be forgiven for being reminded of classical pieces of art as he frames his picture like an expressionist painter. The production design is superb and visually, the film is simply beautiful. The beautiful look isn’t reflected in the material though. This is dark stuff and despite being, both shocking and bizarre, it possesses a sense of humour – all be it, a sick one. Almodovar’s recurrent themes and probing of the human psyche are also explored; masochism, transgender issues and repressed sexuality but ultimately this is a modern, twisted take on the Frankenstein story and one that he imbues with style and creative flair. But nothing is black and white here, he even toys with the morality of the audience in clever use of the Stockholm syndrome in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. As always with Almodovar though, there are a major plot developments that throw his films off-kilter and take such dramatic turns that they quite near takes your breath away. To reveal any more would be completely irresponsible and wholly unfair of me but rest assured that this is thought provoking filmmaking and a craftsman plying his trade at a very high standard. He’s also aided by superb performances by his leads; Elena Anaya could well be the next Penelope Cruz and it’s great to see Banderas deliver such an intense and brooding character, making you wonder why he and the Spanish auteur have waited 21 years before collaborating again here.

A provocative and macabre near masterpiece from Almodovar. It’s one worthy of attention and arguably his finest film to date.

Mark Walker

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