Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

extremeWell, Ted Bundy; bit of a catch, wasn’t he, both for the women that loved him and the enforcement officers that caught him. I think that’s the curious dichotomy of this film- it isn’t at all about the heinous crimes that the monster Bundy committed, but rather the weird charisma and charm about the decent-looking guy Bundy appeared to be. So anyone looking for a procedural crime thriller like Zodiac or Seven is going to be disappointed, but others might find it refreshingly different. Indeed, there is something even more monstrously scary about a normal-looking, charming guy like Zac Efron’s Bundy being such a terrible serial killer than, say, what movies usually portray as a ‘creepy-looking shady loner by day, ruthless monster by night’ kind of trope, and indeed it continuously subverts expectations by dialing down details of disappearances/murders in favour ordinary living/romantic involvements. Of course, all that ‘ordinary living’ and romance is really a study in manipulation and lies when you really think about it.

Part of the fascination, I think, regards serial killers is the whole ‘monster amongst us’ angle- the idea that we don’t really know who might be walking by us in the supermarket or casually saying ‘hello’ to us in the street. Bundy was certainly a monster, but what repeatedly fascinates is his charm and charisma, his fairly relaxed social eloquence and his impressive intelligence. You can understand how he fooled everyone, including the women who loved him and the women he preyed upon. He looked normal, pleasant, safe- nothing like how such killers are supposed to look, at least according to so many movies with their disfigured monsters as twisted on the outside as they are on the inside.

The irony is that Bundy chose a life of killing women rather than becoming a politician, because his skill set would suggest a success at both. Why exactly he felt compelled towards the former is still a mystery- or at least, its a topic this film is not at all concerned about. Instead it follows the point of view Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), a lonely single mother who falls in love with Ted (brilliantly played by Zac Efron, I felt) and her life with him, her doubts and fears when he is caught by the police and protests his innocence, and the trauma of discovering she has been living with a monster.

It is indeed something of a romance picture, at least at the start- but of course, we know full well the truth about Bundy, so perhaps the film loses some effect of surprise. On the other hand, this is one of those ‘so bizarre it cannot be true’ sort of stories, which lends it a certain fascination anyway. While we  don’t really get into the psyche of Bundy or explain his actions, it is peculiarly intriguing to witness his charm and disarming character, how he manipulates and seduces everyone around him.  I must confess to quite liking him at one point, and even rooting for him, which suggests that perhaps a hidden agenda of the film is for Bundy to charm the viewer as much as the people portrayed within it. At the end when the names of his victims are put up on screen, that empathy for him is rudely undermined in a sobering reminder of what horrors he had actually done.

Se7en (1995)

se7enSe7en (Blu-ray)

There’s not really much to be said about Se7en (is it ‘Seven’ or ‘Se7en’ anyway?)– it is David Fincher’s dark masterpiece, a film up there with the very best films of all time.

Having recently watched Fight Club due to enjoying the first season of Mr Robot (which shares much of its themes and content with Fincher’s film), it was no doubt inevitable that I’d then be reaching for this particular blu-ray. It is a dark, mesmerising thriller, so perfect it almost hurts. Well, I say perfect but it does go a little off the rails towards the end… did I just write that? It feels like a sin… no, it’s just that after the finer-executed, intense ‘sins’ we see created earlier in the film, the ‘lust’ one feels forced somehow. It doesn’t work, it pales compared to the others, almost descending into some standard melodramatic potboiler/horror mash-up, but it’s easily forgiven, as everything else in the film oozes perfection. Maybe that ‘lust’ sequence, and the casting of Spacey, maybe, just maybe is the film bending to more mainstream genre conventions, I don’t know, but other than that, this film is truly great: thats Great with a capital ‘G’. The acting, the photography, the make-up, the music, the art direction… it’s a dark, twisted work of art, superior film-making indeed, and almost perverse perfection.

The rain never ends. There is seldom any sunlight, or any warmth. The city feels like a city of the damned, as if its denizens are souls trapped in some circle of hell from which there is no escape. A feeling of dread pervades everything; there is never any inclination that anything remotely like justice or hope or salvation is even possible here. There is a feeling that we are watching a film from the ‘seventies, where characters seem like real people and their world is as real as ours, when anything is possible, even a bad ending, an inconclusive ending, a disturbing ending.  It’s a scary thing. It’s never anything remotely like an ordinary contemporary thriller (except maybe during that aforementioned ‘lust’ section).

Its like a bad dream, one returned to everytime we rewatch it. Watching this film I often think back on Alien 3 and its own horrible flawed beauty, and wonder what Alien 3 might have been had Fincher been left to make it unmolested by the studio suits. After the failure of Alien 3 (a film I always liked, even the ‘faulty’ original cinema cut),  Se7en had an incredible impact, a sense of revelation, vindication. Here Fincher seems to be in control over everything, and the results show. Yes it’s all style and atmosphere but…to criticise the film for that, almost feels like missing the point- it’s so integral to the piece, the atmosphere is actually one of the films characters, like the production design is in Blade Runner.  Se7en is something very close to perfect.

 

Gone Girl (2014)

gone1Gone Girl is a fine thriller, elevated no end by Rosamund Pike’s great performance which in most other years might well have been awarded an Oscar- she’s that good. On the face of it, the premise of the film is fairly simple- revolving around the mysterious disappearance of Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) who increasingly begins to fall under suspicion of her possible murder. There is of course an inevitable twist but surprisingly this comes mid-way through the film, from which point the film almost becomes another film entirely. Its a good film but due to its nature its one I can’t discuss freely without heading into spoiler-territory.

The only point I can really make is regarding the film’s soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher has seemingly become infatuated with ambient soundscapes in his movies (the pair having scored his last three movies now) and while it might serve Fincher’s purpose, I suspect you could run this film minus any of its music score and not notice any difference at all. Its that kind of score. Which is all well and good, but I prefer music that’s almost a character in the film; scores like Poledouris’ Conan The Barbarian or Hermann’s Vertigo or even, for a more recent example, Zimmer’s Interstellar. Music that is an integral part of the film and its sense of character- Reznor’s score here is more of a drone with the odd bit of tune hidden away in its mix, and is pretty much redundant. It is what it is. But the fact that Fincher seems to be more in favour of this style when his earlier films had such great scores as Goldenthal’s Alien 3 or Shore’s Seven or the Dust Brother’s Fight Club… well its rather disheartening.
gone2And really that’s my biggest beef with Gone Girl- Fincher himself. This is the guy after all, who directed Alien 3, the unfairly-maligned result of a troubled production that is a beautifully-shot elegy on death, moody and stark with great performances, wonderful music, great photography and sets…. its a great failure. Its got balls, and is easily the most interesting of all the sequels to Alien. This is the guy who directed Seven, as brutally dark a film as you’ll ever see, a fascinating thriller that’s pretty much the definitive serial-killer movie. Again, great score, great performances, beautifully shot, a film, again, with balls. And then of course we have Fight Club, one of the boldest, mind-bogglingly ballsy movies to come out of Hollywood, ever. The very least you could say of these movies is that Fincher was pushing the envelope, and proving himself something of a maverick director. If Alien 3 failed, it wasn’t really down to Fincher, and the workprint version at least hints at what might have been had the suits left him alone. His next two films were great, classic films.

I’m not going to suggest that his subsequent movies weren’t any good, I’m a big fan of Zodiac in particular, but Fincher seems to be settling down to a routine of thrillers that are competently made but nowhere near as bold as his early films. He seems to be mirroring the career-trajectory of Ridley Scott, whose own best films can easily be argued to be his first three, from which he himself settled into often pedestrian fare.

Gone Girl is a good film, but I have the feeing it would be just as good a film with anyone else directing it. Fincher should be making films only he could make. He should be making a Dune or Rendezvous With Rama or his own Unforgiven, by which I mean a genre film that turns things on its head and says something new. I don’t think his last few films have, and though I’d like to think his future projects will, at the moment that’s getting a little dubious. The promise of a Fincher film used to excite me, but that’s worn off now, sadly.