Saturday, October 29, 2011

Scary Movies in New York

On Thursday, FilmLinc’s deFRIGHTful Scary Movies series kicked off its fifth compressed celebration of horror films in the days leading up to Halloween. It is chock full of viewing pleasures for fans of international, new, and classic films in the genre. Things began with little fanfare as no guests were there to introduce or discuss the films. The remaining days of the event promise appearances by directors of both brand new and old films on the schedule.

Thursday’s double feature involved two films that had very little connection between them, save the fact that both of them included disclaimers that no animals were harmed in the production of the films – a claim probably met with skepticism after the gruesomeness depicted onscreen. Here is a look at each.


This Korean film, which was released earlier this year, is a fairly by the numbers haunter involving a restless spirit. Except here, the terror transpires through the conduit of a charming but temperamental kitty cat. The right, or seemingly deserving, people meet untimely ends that are sometimes rather grisly, while the main protagonist must suffer by her being surrounded by these numerous deaths, not to mention the typical horrifying visions of a malformed and permanently scowling child.

Eventually a connection between feline and forlorn ghoul is discovered, adding a sort of logic, albeit a shaky one, to the preceding chain of events.
Part of the problem that makes The Cat wear on a bit past its welcome is that the happenings leading up to the reveal have been seen so many times before, when Asian supernatural thrillers were in their heyday. How many times can a gaunt and shaggy haired being’s appearance -- under the bed, through the keyhole, or what have you – succeed in scaring when it is just going to disappear ‘til later?

In the film’s defense there is a social conscience and a connection to contemporary real life issues, a feature that many Korean films regardless of genre possess. The main character deals with the psychological disorder of claustrophobia, which seems connected to the experience of some kind of past familial abuse. There is also a look at how human greed can have awful effects on the natural world around us. In this case, concern over the market value of a property leads to the large scale decimation of a community of cats. The imagery of so many damaged cats is unsettling, and had this card been played earlier in the film it might’ve had a more chilling effect.

Add to this the performance of Dong-wook Kim in the lead role of So-yeun, who is truly beautiful when terrified, and could not possibly do a better job expressing wide-eyed fright. Plus a scene or two that could rattle all but nerves of steel and the most adorable ending one is likely to find in the history of horror films. This may provide you with a mostly predictable but occasionally novel and mildly scary movie experience in the spirit of the season.


England’s Kill List is an altogether different kind of animal. I don’t just mean that amongst the evening Scary Movies films; this stands apart from any film I’ve seen in recent years. A mean-spirited sharp edged spring trap of a movie, it is sure to divide viewers into devoted fans and scornful critics. In fact, I think its recent run of festival and preview screenings may have already done so. Filmlinc’s Gavin Smith introduced the film, explaining that its inclusion as a horror movie in this year’s lineup was debated in house, and it’s easy to see why. The movie starts off as a drama, with lengthy heated exchanges between ex-soldier, Jay, and his wife. These occur in un-listener friendly colloquial dialect, and center around Jay’s lack of work after what can be inferred to be traumatic experiences in combat. A dinner engagement, low on snappy dialogue and filled with realistic tension, which takes place with one of Jay’s former military colleagues, introduces a dubious solution to the lack of income: the titular Kill List, which will give the two veterans a change to apply their violent trade as professional assassins for a large sum of money.

The story then shifts into a Gonzo-esque road trip. Except, instead of following the exploits of drug fueled truth seekers, we ride along with two tightly wound killers. Their trip takes them, and in effect us, face to face with the nastiest elements of society’s underbelly in seemingly sterile places. As Jay becomes further and further unraveled, he learns there is more to himself than he’d realized. The perspective of the film, while not quite first person, does a damn fine job making the viewer experience and internalize his confusion, shock, and outrage.

The last of these “jobs” involves a cult whose members don fiercely naturalistic masks made of roughly assembled wood pieces – shades of The Wickerman, but involving the upper crust of society as depicted in Eyes Wide Shut. Here are some of the most tense and panic-inducing sequences of the film, as the cult members’ shrill screams are added to the din of an already frantic experimental score and short punching gun shots. These are the sounds that accompany a chase, which winds through a growingly twisting and claustrophobia inducing underground passageway.
The end of the film reveals sinister connections between seemingly disparate elements of the story. Their ties are murky and left open to some amount of interpretation. It is apparent, though, that Kill List is less a story and more of a thoughtfully constructed contraption conceived of by director Ben Wheatley, and its conclusion is nothing short of a mule kick to one’s brain. By this point, many viewers will have probably checked out, saving themselves from the impact of the blow. For those willing to take the plunge and invest themselves in Wheatley’s vision, it will be upsetting.
Many of the sequences along the way are graphically rendered. There are times I resisted the urge to look away, but Kill List pulls no punches, giving brutal reinforcement to the adage that once you watch something, you cannot UNsee it. If you are looking for unsettling film experiences, look forward to this one, as word on the street suggests a February US release.

Scary Movies 5 continues through October 31st with many highlights in its unique line up. For more information check out the Scary Movies website.

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