Sunday, January 6, 2008
The Other Way Around
Way back in November Jeffrey Wells wrote a post on his Hollywood Elsewhere site, commenting on Harry Knowles’ review of SWEENEY TODD, which at that point Wells had not seen. Noting that Knowles had mentioned Mario Bava as one of the tonal inspirations he picked up on in the film, Wells goes off on a tiny little rant about this. I can’t tell what his ultimate position on Bava is, but he sounds a little dismissive. I don’t want to get into what these guys have to say too much, but I didn’t pick up too much Bava in SWEENEY TODD. To be fair, the Knowles quote isn’t the only thing I pick up when “Sweeney Todd Bava” is googled but certainly the fact that we get gushing blood isn’t in itself the sign of an automatic Bava influence. I honestly got more of a Hammer vibe from the film—weirdly, the London setting confined to ultimately a small amount of locations made me think of DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE more than anything else. Exactly what makes something be considered “Bava-like” is an arguable point considering how such a thing would constitute, for me, more of a mood than anything else. It’s not always something which could be considered entirely tangible. That said, it is something which could be found in SLEEPY HOLLOW perhaps more than SWEENEY TODD, and I have to admit it’s a feeling which strongly came to me even more recently while viewing THE ORPHANAGE as well.
As directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and “presented” by Guillermo del Toro, THE ORPHANAGE tells the story of a woman (Belen Rueda) who returns to the home which served as the orphanage during a period of her childhood to raise the son she and her husband have adopted. Strange occurrences begin and events of the past are questioned, but since the film is best viewed knowing as little as possible ahead of time, I won’t go into too many details. This exploration of certain themes was of course explored by Bava himself in SHOCK aka BEYOND THE DOOR II which he co-directed with his son Lamberto who himself returned to these themes in the recent GHOST SON, which I wrote about in an entry last August. The two films have as many similarities as they do differences, but it’s THE ORPHANAGE which really got under my skin and it’s the one which really seemed to deliver a frisson of dread that reminded me of the elder Bava at his best. It’s anchored by a strong lead performance by Rueda who is enormously effective and should be receiving Oscar buzz right now but naturally isn’t. But it’s also the direction by Bayona and screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez which reveal them to be students of this genre, filmmakers who have paid a great deal of attention to how this sort of story should be told. The film even brings out what has become one of the most overused shock effects of the past few years—no point in saying what it is—and makes it work. Maybe it doesn’t always work—one section involving the use of technology to investigate certain things (shades of the middle section of POLTERGEIST here) lost me a little bit. But the overriding effect of THE ORPHANAGE is that of a really good cinematic drug and I thrilled in taking a few hits off it. I won’t say that you can’t make this film in America today—it’s that studios simply won’t make this sort of film today, where encroaching dread is discarded in favor of noise, incoherence, lack of thought, shallow one-note actresses in their 20s, listless remakes of J-horror and dull Canadian locations. I haven’t written about ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM and I won’t but simply put, to call that movie garbage is an insult to garbage and a sad indication of how truly low the genre has sunk. It’s just depressing and makes one not want to deal with any of those movies for a long while, so anyone who wants to let me know how ONE MISSED CALL is, please feel free.
THE ORPHANAGE is the official Spanish entry for the Foreign Film Oscar and Jeffrey Wells, who likes the film (points in his favor for that) has more recently run an anonymous comment from an Academy member basically wondering why Spain submitted something which was “just” a horror film. It’s too bad that some people have such blinders on, because what THE ORPHANAGE accomplishes is something which should be applauded, not denigrated. It’s cinematic. It’s effective. And, ultimately, it’s also very moving.