A Perfect Allison Williams Double-bill

perfect2Allison who? I hear you ask. Well, that’s a very good question really. I was watching The Perfection last night, and you know how it is, you’re watching a film or tv show and you see a (usually pretty) face and you think, I’ve seen that bloke/woman (delete as appropriate) before, but where? I watch a lot of films, not as many as some, sure, but a lot, and this kind of thing happens all the time. Its what mobile phones and the internet are for, right, to avoid this kind of thing becoming a mental meltdown spoiling what you are watching, but I prefer it to be a bit of a game- pause the damn thing (it’s what pause buttons are for, right?) and just debating with your other half “what the hell have we seen her in? Its something recent, I’m sure, but…”

Too many movies/tv shows. Its all getting a blur at the best of times.

So anyway, this occurred watching The Perfection, a strange horror/thriller flick on Netflix- whenever Allison Williams was onscreen, and it was, like, all the time because she was the star of the damn thing and it was really bugging us. So twenty minutes in we hit the pause button and wracked our brains and eventually, as it does, it came to us- she was in Get Out, another horror/thriller film that we saw a few weeks ago but which I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing here.

So, probably an ideal opportunity to review both films, or at least offer a few thoughts about each whilst considering the artistic qualities of she who is named Allison Williams.

Now, Allison, let’s get this right off the bat- she’s pretty, and she looks an awful lot like Daisy Ridley (Rey from the latest Star Wars trilogy) and Keira Knightley (The Pirates of the Carribean and a lot of other more forgettable stuff) so I suppose I could be forgiven for thinking that she fits a certain casting profile of what’s trendy in films now regards female leads. Now, the spin here is that while I’d likely be correct in thinking that, I’d also have to admit, she’s pretty good, possibly even a better actress, although she comes from a television show background (not something that carries the stigma it used to in the 1970s, certainly) and hasn’t had the break into blockbuster territory that Misses Ridley and Knightley have enjoyed just yet. At any rate, she was pretty damn good in Get Out, and even better in The Perfection– maybe she benefited from limited roles but she manages screen presence and charm and carries herself pretty well. I suspect we may see more of her in future and in later years people won’t be stumbling upon this post wondering “Allison who…?”.

011641211.jpgSo anyway, let’s start with the film clearest in my memory because I saw it last night: The Perfection. This is a something of a revenge/horror thriller that delivers on the shocks and gore but also on the modern tendency of scripts to just break down under scrutiny. I have been reminded before that all film is like that- it’s the plot holes that are filled by the scripts that enable the drama and twists etc and that most films fall apart when really given consideration. So we can forgive all that to some degree. I mean, it’s a little like thinking back on all the carnage in the John Wick films and wondering where all the cops are, particularly in New York considering Wick leaves a wake of bodies akin to a terrorist incident and the frenzy of police and ambulance sirens would surely be up on live News casts etc while it’s still going down. So filmgoers should always suspend disbelief with the proverbial pinch of salt and consider it all part of the fun.

In the case of The Perfection, its perhaps to consider it a modern fable, a kind of adult morality tale, clearly something rather diverged from any reality any of us are familiar with. Its a b-movie posing as something more sophisticated, which it really isn’t, and in this way it reminds me of several other films, like Velvet Buzzsaw, for example, or the recent Suspiria. Child prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a budding master cellist who had to leave a prestigious musical academy when her mother fell ill, and now years later following her mothers death she reconnects with her old tutors and the academy and the star pupil that replaced her and has lived the fame and success that Charlotte was denied. There’s a similar jealousy/animosity/sexual tension that featured in the superior Black Swan, as Charlotte and new star Lizzie (Logan Browning) reconnect. They start an affair as Lizzie takes a well-earned break from performances but something feels a little ‘off’ and its soon revealed that Charlotte really has a few scores she means to settle before the film is over.

To reveal much more would certainly break into spoiler territory, and as I endeavour not to do that when posting about new or fairly recent releases, I won’t go much further here, except to say that it’s got a few left-turns and surprises and is pretty good, except that it really can’t resist going just a few steps too far. Its not a unique criticism, I mean its true of so many contemporary films and tv shows- the drive to shock and surprise and entertain in modern material just can’t help but stretch credibility. The Perfection is, ironically given its title perhaps (whoops, cheap shot right there) is, alas, far from perfect, but it’s reasonably good fun while it lasts. Best to approach it for what it is, a b-movie at heart, and accept it on those terms.

geto1It is also, in a way, reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone tv series, something I was also thinking of when I watched Get Out a few weeks back,  Both films can be considered as simple Twilight Zone-like pitches. In Get Out‘s case, its a film about Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black guy whose relationship with white girl Rose (yep, Allison Williams) comes under some nervous scrutiny when he meets her family one weekend at their rural family home. “Don’t go to a white girl’s parents’ house!” he is warned by Rod, his conspiracy theorist best friend, whose wild fancies are initially played for laughs but it transpires he’s right to be afraid for Chris. Its all a little like The Stepford Wives or Twin Peaks, regards a dark underbelly hidden beneath what on first glance is a pleasant, law-abiding if overly conservative white American community out in the sticks. I was reminded of some of H P Lovecraft’s stories, in which cultists would preserve their essences in ‘Saltes’ through which they might achieve some immortality or life beyond death by occupying the bodies of later descendants – Get Out chooses to follow a more scientific route to explain what’s really going on, but it’s essentially the same.  Its well acted and staged and is a pretty good thriller, and like the best Lovecraft fiction, it had me grimly pondering the really nasty undercurrent of what was really going on – on reflection it’s really horrible how people were being replaced by others in their bodies and for how long it had been happening (I prefer Lovecraft’s more fanciful somewhat mystical methodology than the brain-swapping silliness the film hints at, and I think the film would have functioned as  a great HPL film had it gone that way).

So anyway, there’s two films featuring Allison Williams. I’m sure there will be plenty more, and maybe with the next one I’ll recognise her straight away and won’t be distracted by wondering where I’ve seen that face before…?

Suspiria (2018)

I’d been looking forward to this since I first saw the trailer; I’ve not seen the 1977 original, and know very little of it, so it’s impossible for me to judge this film in comparison to the original but that first glimpse back in July last year really had me intrigued. Part Twin Peaks, part Kubrick’s The Shining, it looked strange and creepy and wonderful.

Well, it’s certainly strange. Finally turning up on Amazon Prime at last, I looked a little harder and found the 4K stream in particular (Amazon loves to hide the 4K stuff away). This new Suspiria is beautiful to look at; both the cinematography and the art direction (dim lighting, lots of browns and beiges with a muted palette all over really) evokes a real sense of 1970s Germany, of coldness and lack of warmth, the setting having a sense of a marked absence of Nature. Considering the presumed pagan origins of this hidden coven of witches, that void of greens and natural light and warmth is rather telling us something, I suspect. This is like a Wicker Man in concrete.

My main issue with this  Suspiria is that, well, it’s not really scary, which you’ll have to excuse me, but it’s how I judge horror films. Like a number of recent films (Velvet Buzzsaw one of them) it really seems to be an arthouse film posing as a horror film. Failing that, its a film by a director mindfully too sophisticated to resort to usual horror film tropes, resulting in it failing to succeed as one. Sure, there’s a few sequences with some gore etc that may be of distaste to some viewers but as a horror film, it’s really something of a failure. Sure its moody but it has no real scares, or, most damning of all, any tension really.

Its clearly more an intellectual exercise than an emotional or nervy one. I can imagine the film having a tagline ‘for discerning audiences only’. This notion is only reinforced by the peculiar casting of Tilda Swinton as two characters- one the lead tutor of the dance school and the other an old man haunted by the loss of his great love decades before during the war. The make-up for this latter character is either impressive or plain peculiar and other than a technical exercise adds nothing to the film itself- if anything it just proves distracting. I had the feeling that the director Luca Guadagnino is trying to prove something, but I don’t know what. I kept expecting some twist revealing the that the witch and the therapist were either the same person or related somehow like brother and sister thus excusing or explaining the physical similarity between the two, but I was barking up the wrong tree. To me, it added nothing to the film, just left me wondering why they bothered. Perhaps the arthouse crowd think its ingenious.

Likewise there are multiple sub-plots that seem fairly pointless.  There’s a prologue in which a dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) has fled the school in fear for her life and soul and tensely warns her therapist (yep, Swinton in male guise), before running off into the night never to be seen again. It promised a threat of almost Lovecraftian hidden horrors but never delivered. There is a vague background noise of terrorist atrocities in the divided city that somehow Patricia is swept up by, but its all off-handed suggestion and not clear. We see a rural religious community in Ohio, America in which a woman (mother of our lead character Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson)) lies on her deathbed. Susie will be cast out or leave from her own choice (it’s not really clear, unless I missed something) and finds herself in Germany auditioning to join the dance school. I suspect she was banished based on revelations at the end of the film.

Suspiria is interesting. Again, its an arthouse movie posing as a horror film and a director perhaps positioning it as an intellectual exercise rather than a deeply involving, tense or scary one. Sure, it has some unnerving moments but it also has long sections that don’t really do or say much of anything. Indeed, for a film that is so intellectual, it seems to have very little to say, or else its message is lost or passed me by. So much of it -the casting of Swinton in two roles, the period setting, the coven politics- didn’t really seem to amount to much of anything other than the director making some obtuse point. Something of a dissapointment really. Or perhaps I need a repeat viewing sometime if the curiosity ever impels me.

 

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

velvetNetflix’ latest movie, Velvet Buzzsaw, has a great premise (basically, it is In the Mouth Of Madness replacing an author and his books with an artist and his paintings) but surprisingly, it pretty much fails dismally in its execution. One of its issues is its lack of focus- on the one hand it’s a satire on the artworld (similar parallels in how The Neon Demon was ostensibly about the world of fashion) and on the other hand, it’s a horror story about paintings, er, possessed by evil and about as hokey as some of the 1970s Amicus/Hammer horrors that might suggest.

Even the title suggests the messy state of the final film. Its a great title, sure, but there’s a sense they had the title before they had the film, shoehorning it in with an offhand reference to a character’s role in a 1980s counterculture band that has no further bearing upon the film at all, other than a tattoo featured in an awkward ‘obligatory because all horror films do it’ sting prior to the end credits.

There’s clearly a sense that the film-makers knew the story of a dead artist whose life’s work is possessed by his spirit, and that all who profit by it will die in horrible fashion, is a terribly unsophisticated premise and far below the talent involved. Its not the first horror film derailed by its talent thinking that the genre is beneath them.  It does appear that to maintain the film-makers interest there’s all this artworld commentary about millionaire dealers profiting on high-society sophisticates investing in art not because of its beauty but because of its worth, and  the shallowness that suggests. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and money corrupts all, those old tropes being the central theme of the film. One art dealer berates art critic (and film protagonist) Jake Gyllenhaal for a negative review thats costs him big money in a deal. The orbits of all these artists and dealers around the opinions of Gyllenhaal’s character is ironic, in the sense that Gyllenhaal himself, like most critics, has no apparent talent himself in the field upon which he is commentating (Gyllenhaal, by the way, is brilliant in this, and deserves to be in a better film) and that Gyllenhaal’s entire career is dependant upon the talents of those he can make or break. Indeed there’s no doubt a meta-irony here that I’m criticising a film when I have no film-making talent/training either, but what’s all us bloggers to do? The film doesn’t really explain why it is Gyllenhaal’s opinion, as opposed to any other art critic, that seems to be so important to everyone, but I suppose that’s true of most leading critics in whatever field they work in. In the end, it’s all ephemeral, except the money. Its all about the money, although everyone would deny it (except Rene Russo’s art dealer, maybe).

Its interesting how this satire commentary depicts the art world and its avarice and corruption- and then gets saddled with this strictly average horror film, in that this highbrow film-making team seems to be looking down on the horror genre as if it’s too easy and formulaic yet that’s what beats them. John Carpenter is no average film-maker; it takes a keen eye and surprisingly adept skill to succeed as he did in the horror genre and it’s foolish to under-appreciate the difficulty making a good horror film. This film is competently made; it’s got a great (largely wasted) cast and great cinematography (the HDR really sings) and in those respects it’s a far better film than Carpenter’s In  the Mouth of Madness, but as a horror film its woefully inferior.

Not a total waste, then, but distinctly a wasted opportunity considering the talent involved, and a salient reminder that Carpenter is some kind of genius and he should be making some Netflix movies of his own, if only someone, or some project, could get him interested again. In some ways, with Netflix giving filmmakers such apparent riches and creative control without the nemesis of cinema box-office, this is the perfect time for Carpenter to be making his brand of low-budget/high-concept horror, but his apparent indifference to directing again confounds all. A Velvet Buzzsaw with him at the helm, hell, that’s a film I would love to see. But maybe the Age of Netflix came just a decade or two too late.