Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: REC

  REC (2007) is as much about TV journalism and the creation of the moving image as it is about a quarantined Barcelona apartment building. Because events unfold entirely through the lens of a television news crew, the camera is essentially a character, putting us as in the action as cinematically possible.
  Our guide and unwitting heroine is Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), a young reporter who, along with her cameraman, Pablo - played with athletic and graceful cinematic skill by the film's actual camera op, Pablo Rosso - is assigned to cover the work-a-day life of a group of firefighters. She quickly becomes restless, quipping to her laconic cameraman that she wishes there would be an emergency call for them to film. She soon gets her wish; her and Pablo ride along with the firemen to the doomed apartment building where the rest of the movie takes place.
  As a student of the moving image, what fascinated me in the first act of the film was how the news crew behaves in a situation that quickly deteriorates, and how the other characters react to the omnipresence of the camera; a policeman who takes charge of the unfolding crisis is at constant odds with it. Angela, being first and foremost a reporter, tells Pablo to "film this, film that. Did you you shoot that? Are you rolling?" When Angela is interviewing a little girl in the building after it is quarantined, the child's mother keeps offering answers, until the reporter stops her, reminding the woman that she's not in the shot, the girl is. Even in a heightened and possibly life-threatening situation, the newswoman is ever mindful of how her image looks and sounds. In other scenes, her and Pedro brave ill-lit rooms that may contain blood-thirsty cannibals just to get a shot. It is almost as if Angela is directing the very film she is a character in; whether this notion was on the filmmakers' minds or not, it is profound nonetheless, and it totally works. This meta-fictional undercurrent is only one of a bevy of original bits of genius contained in REC. 
  The story unfolds in a loud-quiet-loud rhythm, like a Pixies song; there are extended scenes of hushed, pulsating terror punctuated by sudden explosions of blood-flecked chaos. Added to this is the fact that we see events transpire through only one camera, so there is no safe refuge to cut away to; we are taken along for the ride whether we like it or not. Because of the one-camera, real-time aspect of the film, there are several sustained shots that last for upwards of 20 minutes each, involving a dozen or more actors running, falls, fighting, and gushing blood. This in itself is a feat to behold.
  A sequel, REC 2, is scheduled to hit American screens this summer, but it is difficult to fathom how it can top this masterpiece of taut horror film making.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movie Review: Splice

David Cronenberg would be quite amused. Director Vinzenzo Natali's Splice is thick with body-horror, just enough thought to stimulate scientific discussion, and a proud product of Canada.
The first 20 minutes of the film are actually really great. Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley play a married couple of genetic scientists, or "splicers", as they call themselves. We open on the birth of their latest creation, a football-sized sea urchin called Ginger, which is a hybrid of many different fauna and produces some kind of drug that stops cancer, or something - its never really explained in depth. Riding high in the success of Ginger, the splicers set their sights on combining human DNA with that of animals to create an even more revolutionary creature. Forbidden from doing so by their financial backers, they go about it anyway, in secret.
These early scenes, mostly set in the splicers' advanced but believable laboratory, are extremely well done in every aspect. The writing is taut and intelligent, the acting is accessible, and the atmosphere that Natali establishes is creepingly exhilirating. 
Without revealing too much, it can be said that the splicers create a human-animal hybrid the likes of which neither of them imagined. The film starts down a strange path as the creature rapidly matures and the scientists raise it as the child they never had. Things become more bizarre still when the hybrid, called Dren, reaches adulthood, and exhibits enough of a human femininity to fill Brody's character with deviant, weirdly incestuous thoughts. 
From this point, Splice takes a trip to camp and never returns, which is a shame, given the great promise of its first act. It feel very much like the writers (Natali and Antoinette Terry Bryant) put all their thought into the concept and beginning of the film, but then simply fell back on cliches when it came time to cobble together an ending. It begins as a film, but ends merely as a flick.
Aside from the initial act, the film's other main attraction is the realization of Dren. Brought to life with a seamless mix of CGI, practical effects and human acting, Dren is an original and impressive creation. She is played with acrobatic aplomb and heartbreaking depth by French-Canadian actress Delphine Cheneac, who is the only thing that saves the film from becoming completely intorrerable when things go south and even Brody's and Polley's performances turn to ham. 
Despite a weak ending and the squandered potential therein, Splice is a thoughtful and exciting sci-fi horror outing packed with imagery that really sticks to the side of your skull.