The Transfiguration – Friday 24th February – Glasgow Film Theatre
As screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the debut feature of writer/director Michael O’Shea is an expansion of his own 2014 short Milo which was described as “a horror postcard of New York City.” Attending the Glasgow Film Festival alongside producer Susan Leber he joked that he was really excited to be screening directly before Shin Godzilla: “If I was a rock fan this would be the equivalent of opening for Metallica.”
Deeply tied to the city in which O’Shea grew up, it opens with Milo in a public restroom stall with an unnamed victim, emptying his veins and then emptying his wallet before trying to wash the blood from his clothes, never an easy task. Anonymity is the key to his survival, but the older kids in the neighbourhood taunt him, calling him a freak; is it because they genuinely sense something is different about him, or would they do that regardless?
Sharing an apartment with his older brother Lewis, a former soldier, like many in their neighbourhood the orphans live just above the breadline. Researching his condition, he reads Le Fanu’s Carmilla and hides his stash of cash behind home taped copies of Dracula Untold, The Lost Boys and Fright Night, watching online videos of predators, but what is truth and what is fiction when every story changes the rules?
Milo’s routine is changed when a new girl moves in to the building, Sophie, nervous, insecure, an orphan and an outsider like him, though unlike him fully human. Evidently the weak one of the herd, she should be an easy target but he knows not to hunt near home, and instead they become awkward friends, he taking her to a screening of Murnau’s Nosferatu, she begging him to watch Twilight.
Putting vampirism in a modern frame in much the same way as Romero did with Martin, The Transfiguration is a low-key indie film whose principal characters spend much time discussing the different fictions but little telling their own story. Consciously eschewing any overt styling (Milo saying “I didn’t watch that show, I didn’t think it was going to be realistic” of True Blood), it is an honest film of culture and angst rather than an atmospheric one of horror.
As Milo and Sophie, Eric Ruffin (The Good Wife) and Chloe Levine (The OA) give natural performances but ultimately they are just two lonely kids talking, and despite what they have been through they have the perspectives and insight of children, and that does not necessarily make them sufficiently interesting people to carry a feature film.
Feeling less like a structured drama and more just bad things happening to unfortunate people it is not the typical New York of cinema, no bright lights or opportunity, just too many bodies to count, among them Stake Land‘s Larry Fessenden, and throughout The Transfiguration feels flat and bloodless; set decades earlier on the opposite coast of America, Blacula may not be regarded as quality cinema, but at least it had verve.
David Lynch: The Art Life – Friday 24th February – Cineworld
Like his most famous works, David Lynch cannot easily be comprehended or explained. Director, writer, actor, musician, furniture designer, promoter of transcendental meditation, cultural icon, husband, father, chainsmoker, before it all was the art, be it painted or sculpted or a bizarre hybrid of the two, typified by darkness and tortured imagery, anger and fragmented figures, and an undying a love of kitsch, and the art life.
A feature length documentary by directors Jon Nguyen and Rick Barnes built around an extended interview with Lynch as he works and smokes at his home studio, Nguyen was a producer on the 2007 documentary simply entitled Lynch which focused on the final stages of the production of Inland Empire, but here the celebrated successes of cinema and television, Wild at Heart and Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, are peripheral, the focus on the man and the canvas.
“You go with ideas and sometimes the past can colour those ideas,” he says, and truly Lynch’s process seems as eccentric, as counter-intuitive as his films, plastic cowboys and Indians glued to a board, wearing blue latex gloves as he smears paint by hand, bending wires to make words, paintings with cartoon speech bubbles expressing anguish, pain, disappointment, yet the final works are unmistakably his.
Talking through his transient early life, the family moving wherever his father was assigned for his work with the US Department of Agriculture, he speaks of his memories of Spokane, Washington, where “his life was small,” when unlike his siblings his mother refused to allow him colouring books, fearing “those would be restrictive, would kill some kind of creativity,” instead giving him blank pages to fill with his own images.
His early years happy and his family close, “My world was no bigger than a few blocks. Huge worlds in those blocks. You can live in one place and have everything.” Moving from Idaho to Virginia, from sunshine and mowed lawns to a world of eternal night, he recalls a hurricane on his first day at school and an endemic disdain for the education system which continued to Boston Art School where he recalls “exercises in drudgery.”
Throughout he is modest, displaying no ego in anything he does, all his potential seen by those around him but he is aware of his good fortune. It was a friend who was the son of the artist Bushnell Keeler who had introduced them and so led to what came to be “the art life” of David Lynch – “You drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes, and you paint. Maybe the girls come into it a little bit.” – and burning through his own perceived mediocrity he worked until something sparked.
There is insight into Lynch but only tangentially into his work, into the meanings, other than what can be extrapolated from what he chooses to talk about. A childhood memory of a naked woman with blood on her face echoes in Blue Velvet, the security of his childhood Washington State neighbourhood echoed in Twin Peaks, as a young man he never brought any friends home, “afraid of what would come out if everybody got together,” the catastrophic consequences of different worlds colliding informing the layers of his work. While he never speaks of his films, still he talks of them constantly.
Back to school in Philadelphia, “a poor man’s New York, a mean city,” he moved to animation and experimental film before the “total life changing phone call” awarding him a grant from the American Film Institute, and Eraserhead is the only film specifically referenced, “one of my greatest, happiest experiences in cinema.” No more than a sometimes abstract introduction, the shock of white hair, the dirty fingers from his hands-on approach to playing with textures, always the cigarette, how can ninety minutes ever do more than touch the surface of David Lynch?
David Lynch: The Art Life is scheduled for release on Friday 9th June
Detour – Saturday 25th February – Glasgow Film Theatre
It has been said that life is what happens when you’re making other plans; for Harper, all plans are on hold, his mother in a coma following a serious car accident, the imminent results of the latest tests on her progress determining whether or not her life support will be terminated. Harper visits her every day and reads to her, yet his stepfather Vincent has only visited once in three months, instead occupied by endless “business trips” to the party city of Las Vegas.
Drowning his many sorrows a little too readily, Harper ends up mouthing off in the bar to the wrong crowd, Johnny Ray, small time thug with delusions of playing the big league who negotiates to “put dad in the sand” for $20,000. All Harper has to do is find the cash, get over his qualms and say yes, a decision that will shape the rest of his young life.
The sixth feature from writer/director Christopher Smith, responsible for the London underground after-hours horror of Creep and the corporate team-building excursion gone off-target of Severance, the medieval misery of Black Death and the sweetly seasonal Get Santa, Detour is emblematic of his own career, unpredictable, fast moving and never to be taken at face value.
With Smith stating at the British premiere that it could be seen as “a B-side to Triangle,” his 2009 psychological horror of skewed time starring Melissa George and Liam Hemsworth, the narrative of Detour is similarly split in two parallel strands, one where Johnny shows up at Harper’s door to conclude the bloody deal, the other where Harper tries to force Vincent’s confession unaided, and each in their own way goes spectacularly badly.
Like taking a road trip with Bonnie and Clyde, Johnny and his complicated girlfriend Cherry are not reassuring company and everything Harper does to dig himself out of the hole he’s in just gets him deeper, every spin on the steering wheel a new complication, every twist sending them in a new direction, the compact film weaving deftly in and out of dead ends with slick plotting as the jigsaw pieces tumble to form the full picture of Harper’s hellish day.
Carrying the film are the central trio of the increasingly desperate Harper, the undeniably dangerous Johnny and wild card Cherry, X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Tye Sheridan, The OA‘s Emory Cohen and The Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s Bel Powley, all of them talented and experienced beyond their years but still kids far out of their safety zone playing in a dangerous world of adults.
Supporting them are True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer as the duplicitous Vincent, The Hybrid‘s John Lynch as Johnny’s demanding creditor Frank and Independence Day: Resurgence‘s Gbenga Akinnagbe as the police officer who takes too close an interest in the travelling trio, and under the blazing sky it is inevitable there will be blood before night falls.
Conversely, left to his own devices Harper may be less ruthless than Johnny but rather like the film itself he is far more devious than either Vincent or Johnny comprehend; the faces the characters present may not be their true selves and situations may not be as they first appear, and while Smith has laid clues to unravel the strands for those who are paying attention, akin to Nolan’s Memento that only makes the second enlightened viewing more enticing.
Detour is scheduled for release in late April
Raw – Saturday 25th February – Glasgow Film Theatre
Its notoriety preceding it, Julia Ducournau’s Raw was a late addition to the FrightFest lineup following the decision of distributor Screen Gems to push back the release of Patient Zero which was originally scheduled to fill the evening slot, though fortunately the Glasgow audience proved more hardy than their counterparts at the Toronto International Film Festival and no ambulances were required.
A strict vegetarian her whole life, Justine (Garance Marillier) is joining her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) studying veterinarian medicine at the same university as the maman and papa once attended, but the student life on offer is not to her taste. Diligent and dedicated and expecting the same of her peers, she is expected to participate in the rituals enforced upon the freshmen by the seniors, cruelty far beyond juvenile pranks.
While those around her including Alexis and her roommate Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) conform to the humiliation in order to be accepted, having been forced to taste meat Justine begins to develop escalating cravings which she cannot comprehend or control, driving her to extremes of behaviour to satisfy her uncharacteristic appetite.
An examination of sisters written and directed by a woman, the most shocking aspect of Raw is not the graphic cannibalism but how unpleasant and unsympathetic Justine and Alexia are, the former surly and the latter selfish, though this is in keeping with the rest of the student body. To be likeable is not necessarily a requirement for a horror film, but Justine is less a personality than a series of compulsions strung together to create less than a whole in the same way as the film is built on a series of preposterous narrative requirements which undermine the twisted reality Ducournau proposes.
That a family composed entirely of vegetarians are so incapable of making arrangements for sustenance that they must sit in a motorway cafe with plates of nothing but mashed potatoes is inconceivable. Justine’s innate and unstoppable craving for flesh triggered by a single taste of raw meat, Ducournau’s thesis seems to be that all vegetarians are suppressed, desperate and miserable carnivores simply waiting for a reason to abandon themselves to the flesh.
And self-control seems to be in short supply all over the university which is apparently run by the students rather than the faculty, with bullying, harassment and humiliation tacitly endorsed without question, the only visible professor a stereotype of an aged, out-of-touch buffoon, when no legitimate institution of learning would tolerate such activities.
Justine asks her classmates why they chose to attend veterinary school and the question is valid, for they seem to care nothing for the animals, slaughtered so the new arrivals can be drenched with blood as part of their initiation before they move onto the next drunken party, but what is not asked is why a veterinary student who wakes up with the symptoms of bacterial meningitis scratches herself bloody rather than seeking medical help nor why she demonstrates not the faintest clue about the basics of first aid when her sister is injured.
Another world, a different culture, apparently in France nobody wears seat belts, ambulance drivers don’t bother covering the dead, and when somebody is in obvious distress rather than helping them the correct action is to film them and post it online. With far less to say on the subject of cannibalism than either Somos lo que hay or its American language remake We Are What We Are, Raw is most definitely undercooked and far less satisfying than the hype would suggest.