Friday, November 28, 2008

The Big World of Little Films

In the world of independent horror film there is a group of filmmakers, competent and imaginative, who work in a team akin to the Coppola, Lucas, and Spielbergs of yesterday and the Cuarón, Del Toro, Iñárritu, and Almodovars of today. Not that Cuarón and those guys aren’t in a sense independent, but they have the budget and mainstream precedents that will carry them as far as they’ll ever need (in fact Del Toro’s latest job, pinch-hitting for Peter Jackson on the Hobbit, should guarantee that they can all make whatever incendiary films they want until there as old as Alfonso Arau). This small collective of filmmakers can, together, do just about anything that needs to be done. Graham Reznick, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, and Larry Fessenden (and David Gordon Green, kind of; he’s in there with them, but he doesn’t make horror films), together with regulars John Speredakos, Kevin Corrigan, and Ron Perlman have crafted many effective, moody, and creepy horror films made for next to no money through their production company Glass Eye Pix. Fessenden, being the senior of the group, obviously has something of an edge where quantity is concerned; his work extends back to the short films he started making in 1978 when he was only 15; I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty funny that his first film was called Jaws three years after Spielberg released his film. He started off the rash of no budget shockers with his film No Telling in the early 90s. His films spend a lot of time on character development, spend a bit of time establishing moody atmospheric scare scenes and then the creature arrives at the end. Incidentally, Fessendan really likes the Wendigo story, cause he's used it twice now in the films of his I've seen. The conclusion to Wendigo is one of the more inventive and spooky cheap film endings I've yet to see; it's worth the price of admission. Glenn McQuaid typically does visual effects for the other guys, but his film is the one I’m most looking forward to; it’s called I Sell The Dead and it looks like a blast; it looks like a continuation of a short film he made with Fessendan called The Resurrection Apprentice. Graham Reznick does sound design for these films and he has a feature-length thriller under his belt called I Can See You. Ti West, however, is the man we’ll be concerning ourselves with today. His most impressive entry into this delightfully amateurish crew’s oeuvre is called The Roost and its the one film that fits in with my mission statement. The Roost, is a sort of zombie film, and a great, unpretentious Evil Dead tribute that was a lot of damned fun.

The Roost
by Ti West
Ti West lets us know what sort of film this is right away in the framing story. We meet a TV host (Tom Noonan, the big creepy guy from Manhunter and a few other Michael Mann films and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY) who tells us we’re in for a sppoky story. There is no sound design to speak of, his dialogue is clearly being read off a cue card, is full of bad puns, and he wears a Dracula costume. Noonan does a laconic, 60-year-old Criswell impersonation for a few minutes before we enter the story proper. Four kids who clearly have some ties to each other that we don’t need to understand to enjoy the film are driving home when their car careens off the road and they’re forced to find a phone; as is common in horror films, cell phones are not an option. They go to the nearest house to ask to use their phone and surprise, surprise, no one answers. A quick inspection of the barn behind the house reveals no signs of life that they want any part of; where should I start? The bats or the zombies? Well, let’s go with the bats. The four twenty-something interchangeable protagonists will intermittently encounter a horde of almost convincing front-projection bats; The bats’ bite cause ordinary folk to turn into bloodthirsty zombie-type things that make our heroes’ stay at the barn all the more difficult. The sheriff arrives and does about as much good as the one in The Last House On The Left, Night Of The Living Dead, or Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These kids are going to need a lot of luck to get out of this one alive. Meanwhile, back in the framing story, we’re treated to the identity of the ‘master’ that Noonan keeps referring us to.

Like a lot of the Glass Eye Pix stuff and other recent independent horror films (Soft For Digging, Ils, Cool Air) The Roost is set in a desolate location, has refreshingly believable protagonists, and gets major points for atmosphere. Unlike those films, The Roost spends most of its running time giving you Sam Raimi style jump scares heightened with extremely gory flourishes. Like its most obvious influence, The Evil Dead, The Roost has its major stylistic device down pat. Every time West lulls us into a quiet spot he and his undead boogie men burst out of nowhere and scare us stupid. Like other backwoods films (Raimi’s films or grimmer fare like Axe or Just Before Dawn) it spends its time with a tiny group of people and makes with the fright quickly and cheaply.

The cheapness of The Roost adds to its charm in a big, big way. We have Glenn McQuaid’s awesome visual effects (the bats are what they are, but at least they don’t dance on the end of a string). Whenever someone gets their face bit, we know it. West doesn’t flinch when its time to show what his make-up guys are capable of. The Roost has its moments where it achieves scares just as good as many of the ones Raimi got in his heyday. Ti West knows exactly what he’s trying to do and can carry out incredibly effective budget effects like no one I’ve seen in the last 20 years. The gore looks better than even George Romero’s latest efforts. It’s funny how much technology gets in the way of good story-telling. Take for example the switch from miniatures to computer generated effects in the sci-fi genre. With a movie like Aliens, for example, it’s nearly impossible to tell what sets are miniatures and which aren’t, and I for one think we should never have abandoned it. It’s a little like the black hole basement in Sweden or wherever; hey, we have this technology, let’s use it. Does no one think to ask why? We have computers that can simulate blood flowing out of someone’s head like they’ve been shot. Didn’t we just spend the better part of 70 years trying to get this right using real effects? Why would we abandon it when something more expensive comes along? I don’t know, but I do know that Ti West’s The Roost proves you don’t need money to scare people. In fact, the one point in which animation was used (those bats, again) is the one thing I have to complain about. The Roost is a great little film; it feels like a little film but it scares like a big one.

Glasseye Pix recently produced a film called Wendy & Lucy whose musicless trailer actually unsettled me more than most horror films released today. It just goes to show you that less is more in most cases. Sometimes, however, an imbalance in elements can make for a frustrating hour and a half. Which brings me to another independent near-zombie film made by a group of friends. This time, the personalities of each contributor is out in the open; you needn't look to their other work to see who brings what to the table.

The Signal
by Dan Bush, David Bruckner, and Jacob Gentry

The film's opening is deceptively disorienting. A woman screams alone in a concrete shack in the middle of the woods covered in blood as a retro title sequence plays out over her pained expressions. We'll never return to this, because it's a clip from one of Gentry's other films. Lame. Just when I thought I was being taken into a shockingly original and gory nightmare world that was both a throwback and unique, like The Roost, the story proper begins and its a dubious melodramatic affair. Chapter one, directed by Bruckner, is called Mad Love. Well, this just wouldn't be a revisionist zombie film without some doomed lovers, so lets bring them out. Meet Ben and Mya, a pair of homely lovers who meet in secret so as to avoid confronting Mya's abusive jagoff husband Lewis. Ben's convinced, as these types generally are, that they can make a go of an ordinary life away from Lewis. Mya, with visions of living of sin in her head, leaves the rendezvous and finds a Let Sleeping Corpses Lie-esque societal chaos waiting for her. People are violent, sick, and ill-mannered everywhere she looks. Why? It has something to do with the signal that's on every TV in town. The icing on the crazy cake comes when her husband, fueled by what at first appears to be jealousy, beats one of his two drinking buddies literally to death. Strangest of all though is the fact that Lewis doesn't show the slightest sign that he is at all phased by his own actions. Mya flees with Lewis' surviving friend Rod and just misses Ben as he storms her apartment building looking to make good on all his "let's leave this place" bravado. He finds more people turned insane by the signal that's all over town.
Chapter 2 starts when Mya leaves her apartment and crashes her car outside a condominium populated by recently crazed buffoons. There's Anna, whose new years party preparations got put on hold when she killed her husband, but doesn't realize she has. There's Clark, her landlord, whose only slightly more with it. There's Jim Parsons, their neighbor, who, with Kramer-like clumsiness walks into a death trap. This is the funny part, in case you were wondering. The second chapter is the most aimless of the three in that Jacob Gentry, who directs, tries to squeeze every last ounce of humour out of the idea that there's bad shit going on outside but no one inside knows it. It's funny at first, but...this isn't really a comedy last time I checked. The film then screws around for 45 minutes establishing what we already know: that Lewis is a jealous asshole who'd kill people to keep them away from his wife. Things end badly for everyone but Clark, who is saved by the last minute intervention of Ben.

Chapter three finds Ben trying to jog Clark's memory about Mya's whereabouts while Lewis tries to hunt them down. Clark decides that the best way for him to regain control of his thoughts is to take Rod's displaced head and attach electrodes to it a la The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Clark finally remembers that a certain blond mentioned going to a train station to leave town with her lover; the two men are off at once. They reach the train station and this segment's director Dan Bush confirms that we're in the psychological horror part of the evening. Instead of the sweaty, grimy, bloody climax we were promised in chapter one, we get 15 minutes of Lewis and Ben trying to out-think each other through voice over and flashes of the signal on a bunch of TVs nearby. Need I say who wins? In the end, however, I can't say I really have any clue what happens.

The Signal was fun while I was watching it, but, as soon as it ended I felt cheated. The performances are all great especially coming from relative nobodies and the editing, production design, and cinematography are extremely well executed. So what we have is a problem of direction and writing, the curse of the anthology movie. Where were all the zombies? Where did all that madness go? Now, my main issue with this movie stems from the fact that a review told me this was a zombie movie. It's not, and so I should just get over it, but that's not this films biggest failing. The first act sets up a perfectly serviceable plot with acceptably trite cliches in a new kind of situation and then acts two and three drop the ball pretty spectacularly. Bruckner put so much time in setting up a great, paranoid first act and his two collaborators were not the least bit interested in picking up where he left off. Here's what chapter one sets up; the signal, whatever it may be, is turning people into violent sociopaths who act on their every impulse. Where does the signal come from? How does Ben keep control of his thoughts? What about the music in Mya's headphones keeps her from going as crazy as everyone else? Why was Rod spared? What is the Signal actually doing to people's brains? What does the rest of the city, or the world look like? Well Gentry and Bush could care less and we'll never learn the answers to any of those questions, save one; Ben's immunity is explained pretty pretentiously by Bush. I wouldn't have found the last two thirds of the movie so disappointing if a much better conclusion wasn't demanded of the first act.

We basically move from [rec]-like intensity to black comedy with no answers to sub-Tarkovskian philosophy with no emotion or violence and vague answers. Bruckner had everything more or less in check, but that balance disappears when his segment ends. Where did the Signal come from? TV signals are exclusively man-made and thus must be controlled by human means or something more intelligent. With the production cost of both acts II and III, they could have explained the origin with a scene. Both Gentry and Bush ladled their styles so heavily onto their segments its like we're watching three different films, which shouldn't be the case. I'm not opposed to being left in the dark, but I'd like a little story with my mayhem and psycho-babble. The urgency is dropped; I for one would have liked to see Ben's bravado take the same form as Jim's in 28 Days Later.

Props must be given to David Wingo, sometime composer for David Gordon Green, whose cover of Joy Division's Atmosphere is the recurring musical theme in The Signal. It is a shimmering, pure, and beautiful piece of music that fittingly accompanies the few positive surviving human values in a world gone mad. Wingo is a wizard with layers, textures, and his soulful voice is fittingly haunting and fits his arrangement like a glove. A beautiful song and he was kind enough to give it to me when he discovered iTunes wasn't selling it as a single. Less is more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My 100 Favorite Films Volume 7: Let The Right One In

Occasionally you’ll know right off the bat that what you’re looking at is a work of art; sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it’s during a backward glance appraisal. Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire film I read a tiny review of in some magazine or other, was quite clearly an overwhelming artistic achievement from the word go. I was made totally aware of this fact at one moment in particular: our hero, a 12 year old boy, is hit in the cheek with a stick by a bully and for a split second the sound goes in favor of the high-pitched ringing that accompanies unexpected bursts of pain. No one had ever done that before so boldly and clearly and from then on I knew unquestionably that this was bound to be one of the best films I'd ever seen. With all the mishigas being raised over Twilight and the disappointing sting of 30 Days of Night still fresh in my mind, I’d like to choose my words carefully so that readers will understand that this movie is special in ways few horror films ever manage to be; I’d also like to sit the makers of both Twilight and 30 Days of Night down and make them watch this and then smack their noses with a newspaper. I will say though that rather than read my analysis and take my word for it, you should stop now, drive the two hours to the nearest arthouse that’s showing it and see for yourself that there are still brilliant movies being made, and for the most part, if this and Joachim Von Trier's Reprise are any indication, they're being made in Scandinavia. Would you believe me if I told you it was about a cute 12 year old girl who was also a vampire?

Let The Right One In
by Tomas Alfredson
Open on a hopelessly beautiful, hopelessly middle class tenement building in a village outside Stockholm, Sweden. As 12-year-old child of divorce Oskar stands in his underwear practices his tough guy speech to a window, an old man and his young daughter unpack their belongings from a taxi cab and move into the apartment next door. Oskar is the victim of bullying and it’s not hard to see what makes him easy prey: he is pale, gangly even for a 12 year old, has long blonde hair his mother has clearly not looked at in sometime, he walks as if one leg were longer than the other, and his social weirdness manifests itself whenever he’s called on to talk in class. Clean cut bully Conny and his two not-so-brave cohorts Martin and Andreas make Oskar’s life as miserable as possible whenever they can fit it in. It isn’t until Oskar meets his new neighbor that things start to turn around for our young hero.

We know things aren’t right when, in what might be the most beautifully composed evisceration ever filmed, the elder of Oskar’s two neighbors drugs a passerby, strings him up on a lamppost and cuts his throat. This might be an ordinary killing save for one thing; he catches the blood in a plastic jug. The old man’s plan, whatever it may be, is ruined when a runaway dog brings its owners to the scene forcing him to flee. This doesn’t make his ‘daughter’ too happy, who after a stern talking to issues what sounds like a hypothetical warning “Do I have to do this myself?” Shortly after this botched incident, Oskar is outside after dark threatening a tree at knife point when he catches the young girl spying on him. It will take a lot of coaxing before he learns her name (Eli), but she wants to make one thing clear; she may be the same age as Oskar, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be friends. This changes after they meet a few times and Eli develops a soft spot for Oskar; perhaps because she has a very adult secret that youthful playtime helps her forget. One night one of the neighborhood drunks stumbles home and Eli lures him under a bridge and savagely murders him with her teeth. Two significant developments then unfold; firstly is that after Eli does her victim in fully, she cries, clearly unhappy about her fate; secondly an old eccentric with a house full of cats happens to witness the murder. Eli’s father hides the body, but clearly things are about to change for the family.

Oskar starts seeing more and more of Eli; she teaches him to stand up for himself and soon he has a crush on her that takes up most of his attention whenever they’re apart. Eli is initially reluctant until the night her dad slips up and gets himself caught while trying to milk a neighborhood boy of his life essence; the old man chooses an incredibly painful method of concealing his identity and covering his tracks so that Eli is left unmolested by authorities. When she visits him in the hospital that night, he says farewell to her and gives her what he was unable to provide while they lived together. Eli visits Oskar that night and agrees to ‘go steady’ as he puts it. Because Eli has to do her own hunting and as she isn’t be as careful as her dad was, she leaves behind a calling card one night when she doesn’t finish off one of her victims; the poor woman’s drunkard boyfriend is understandably a little shocked when she becomes sensitive to daylight, is nearly eaten alive by cats and won’t shut up about a little girl infecting her with something. Time to do some investigating, eh? This guy isn’t any Van Helsing, but he has a pretty good idea who’s behind the whole mess. As if that weren’t enough problems for our heroes, Oskar manages to make yet another enemy. When Oskar takes Eli’s advice about not letting kids bully him anymore and lashes out at Conny with a stick at recess, the little terror’s older brother gets involved; I guess exceedingly stupid and violent behavior runs in the family.

If this movie has one clear precedent, it wouldn’t be Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu or its excellent remake, any of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee’s takes on the subject, nor that oft-referenced teenage vampire trainwreck The Lost Boys. It wouldn’t even be some of the more recent child-horror films: your 6th Senses, The Rings, or any of Guillermo Del Toro’s three elegiac fairy tales, The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, or Pan’s Labyrinth. No, if I could point to one film most likely to have been an influence on this film, I’d guess it would be Lasse Hallström’s My Life As A Dog. Another famous Swedish export (in fact perhaps the most famous non-Bergman Swedish film yet made; notice I didn’t say infamous; that honor would go to Alf Sjoberg’s I Am Curious) My Life As A Dog has many thematic similarities including a weak-willed boy infatuated with a much stronger female, pubescent growing pains, a lovely romantic story between two youths of starkly different types, a town full of characters on the fringe of the lead's lives who play important roles in the story proper, parents incapable of understanding their children, and adults in general being powerless to put themselves in the mindset of that thing they’re now least like and most afraid of in the world – a child. The film's theme of childhood being as mysterious as supernatural behavior reminds one of Robert Wise's great Curse of the Cat People, only with roles reversed and modernized. The same shimmering innocence pervades both films and Alfredson has Wise's respect for the extraordinary power of the imagination.

Let me digress for a moment and say that if I had an inner child, she would look and act something like Lina Leandersson does here; this 12 year old first-time actress is my hero. Her Eli, on top of scoring points for being an unrelentingly cute murderer, is one of the greatest characters in film history. Oskar and Eli spend most of their time together asking questions typical of 12 year olds, and its clear that they both suffer from arrested development, albeit for two different reasons. Oskar has his absent parents to thank for his naivete (Oskar has ten times more fun with his dad, but dad still hasn’t come clean about his homosexuality and is clearly ashamed of it, which puts a strain on their relationship), Eli has the fact that her life stopped being that of 12 year old years ago. Between Eli’s lack of friends her own age or any other relationships beyond her male caregiver, she is just as clueless about socialization as Oskar. This is most whimsically demonstrated when Oskar buys Eli a bag of candy in a misguided attempt to be kind. Eli, not wanting to seem rude, eats one and promptly vomits behind the vender’s stand; Oskar panics and hugs Eli, something, I gather from her ridged posture, that no one has done in quite some time. Both Oskar's frightened expectations and Eli's confused detachment ring as true as anything I've ever seen on film. Moments like this are what separates Let The Right One In from all of its contemporaries. Alfredson proves himself capable of providing every facet of John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s source novel and screenplay with equal amounts of care and grace. Incidentally, Lindqvist should receive accolade for both staying remarkably true to vampire lore, while still delivering a unique scenario in which to play with it (for every Martin there's a Dracula 2000 waiting to make it irrelevant). I knew that this movie was not simply good but transcendent just after Eli says goodbye to her father. She comes back to Oskar’s room, her mouth still coated in her guardian’s dried blood, disrobes and climbs into bed with him (Maria Strid's costumes really make Eli's malaise all the more palpable). She has never known loss before and thus her turning to Oskar for comfort in her time of greatest need is beyond touching. They never face each other and Oskar is clearly out of his depth, but the two are completely in the moment and this scene’s tenderness is nearly unparalleled; rarely have child actors seemed so unapologetically, wonderfully childish. When Eli slowly takes Oskar’s hand, I thought I was going to cry.

Oh, and those of you who’re reading this going “it’s a love story, pfft! I’ll just see Saw V, thank you very much. We don’t need another Twilight!” shame on you. Please don’t misunderstand me, the movie works just as well as a horror film; Alfredson is just as at home melting a heart as he ripping one out. And oh, the horror! Let The Right One In is like the There Will Be Blood of horror films. It is quiet, unpredictable, wildly visual, gut-wrenchingly tense, and absolutely mesmerizing. So little actually happens, and what does is so masterfully understated that you can’t help but wait with bated breath from scene to scene. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography makes for one of the moodiest portrayals of cold weather in recent memory. As enthralled as I was by the awesomely beautiful story of pre-adolescent love and the search for understanding, I was absolutely spellbound by the scenes where the horror elements come into play. Watching Conny observe Oskar and plan his downfall internally is ten times as frightening because this is a film completely unafraid to put its heroes in danger. His classmates put Oskar in very real peril and it almost rivals the gruesome murders committed by his sunlight-fearing dream girl. Another point Let has in common with There Will Be Blood is it’s truly awesome and orgasmically violent climax. This and 28 Days Later now share the prize for greatest conclusion in any film. No other filmmaker has yet been brave enough to make its romantic peak coincide with harm to children under 12 without losing any of his or the movie's integrity.
It’s funny to note how effortlessly a country enters a discourse and makes the homogenized major players seem like the big, monomaniacal teenagers they truly are. Go to netflix and look at their foreign horror; they have two categories: Italian and Japanese. You’ll find a French film and the odd Spanish production, but the point is that America’s scope is so narrow that it’s a wonder Let The Right One In got…well, let in (to use [rec] as an example, that film’s remake is currently making the rounds of multiplexes across the country, but it’s superior source film has yet to find an American distributor [note: it found a barebones DVD release mid-2009]). Seeing as how Let The Right One In has exactly one historical precedent (Ingmar Bergman’s haunting and hallucinogenic Hour Of The Wolf), it could have been anything less than perfect and I would have been satisfied. In fact I probably would have sung its praises anyway seeing as how America’s idea of a good independent horror film is Teeth and its idea of a revisionist vampire movie ranges from the bad (Underworld, Interview With A Vampire, Lost Boys) to the absolutely unwatchable (Van Helsing, Bordello of Blood, From Dusk Till Dawn). However, not since Near Dark has there been so brilliant a vampire film; not ever has there been a better film about childhood. Let The Right One In is nothing short of perfect and will remain one of my favorite films for a long time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

[truly goddamn terrifying]

You know sometimes you see something that frightens you so badly you're not even embarassed about the girlish noises you've been making for the last hour 30?

by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza

That's all the intro this film gets because it scared me so fucking bad that I need to just get to it. This is that rare film where no place is secure, no one is safe, and absolutely everything is out to get you. A woman and her camera man are recording segments for a show about the nocturnal work forces in their town and tonight has taken them to a fire house. They're introduced to Manu and Alex, the two fireman who they'll be making the rounds with, they play basketball, see the mess hall, the sleeping quarters...Alex makes it pretty clear that the life of a firefighter is not one of constant heroics. No sooner has their routine of nothingness begun to sink in for the amateur reporter that the alarm finally sounds. Angela and Pablo, reporter and cameraman respectively, ride along to an apartment where an elderly woman was heard screaming; her door is locked and so no one is able to get her out. Manu, Alex, and two cops everyone has a hard time taking seriously bust the door down and find the old woman in a bad way. She is hunched over at the end of the hallway, speaks only in sickening barks, and is covered in blood. When the elder of the two cops tries to put a hand to her, she bites him in the throat. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the subject matter tackled on these pages knows the score; the poor bastards in the four story apartment building don't.

When Manu and rent-a-cop #2 bring their injured quarry downstairs, a couple of sobering reality checks are waiting for them. The first is that the authorities have locked everyone in the building; voices on megaphones assure them that decisions are being made for the best outside and that they should stay put. Next, Alex's body falls three stories and slams face first in the middle of the floor. When Guillem, a medical intern and possibly the landlord, gets the two injured men in stable conditions, Manu and the remaining cop go back upstairs. The old woman has gotten right the hell back up and it takes a gunshot to put her back down. Still don't know what's going on? Well here's a man in a yellow haz-mat to clear the air. Seems there's some kind of infection scare going on and priority one is, you guessed it, containment! So, what does that mean for the 15 people still inside. Well they're just fucked aren't they?

I love zombie films and one of the things that really makes a zombie film for me is when they're I don't know...scary. So many zombie films, in fact I'd go so far as to say most of them, simply think they can exist on nominal horror: i.e. there are zombies, it must be scary. Not so. The success of most zombies films is, admittedly, in the stories they tell, but I call a zombie film great when it scares me. 28 Days Later, scary. Dawn of the Dead, scary. Zombies are endlessly entertaining as the endless blog reel can tell you. As horror writer Jonathan Maberry put it when explaining why the Dawn remake was his favorite zombie film, these films were great because they 'made zombies scary again'. So, what does [rec] bring to the table? Quite frankly the best use of shaky-cam (and unlike the American remake, the film stock is actually the sort favored by local news stations) and the most claustrophobic nightmare ever committed to film. Jaume Balagueró was in the red with me after his laughably boring Darkness, but he's more than redeemed himself here. Just after I'd gotten over the shock of a reality based horror film with believable performances from EVERY actor, then came the horror. Aside about the acting; everyone is great. Everyone who is annoying is annoying in a completely truthful real-world fashion. The eccentric racist, the protective mother, the agitating junior reporter, the monomaniacal cameraman; all people I've encountered before and their behavior is precisely as it would be in this situation. At 89 minutes long, [rec] doesn't have time to fuck around, and it knows it. After the obligatory-yet-reasonable character development scene (SCENE. Singular, take a page J.J. Abrams! We don't care who these people are dating because it has, surprise, surprise, nothing to do with the plot!) we're treated to shock after squeal-inducing shock. Zombies are frightening only when you know you can't get away from them, and writers Balagueró, Plaza, and Luis Berdejo give our heroes less and less ground to feel safe in; for a few blistering minutes they are completely without shelter (the fact that they lose floors of a building when they lose ground reminded me increasingly of It! The Terror From Beyond Space). These guys know how to draw screams as well as any Japanese director of the last 15 years. And like the best Japanese directors, their gore is never obscene; rather it is always well-played and even-handed, if incredibly intense. The production design is flawless; the real apartment interior adds to the truly horrendous nature of the terror. You are never drawn out of the film by some short-coming; in short everything works.

The film is not without it's influences, those two new school runner flicks foremost among them (there's a scene with a little girl that had my head sideways for a few seconds, but it recovered soon after). But where Balagueró and Plaza really leave the ranks of the average and enter the realm of those most gifted of horror craftsmen (Friedkin, Boyle, Carpenter) is the ending. The way they explain zombies is not only wholly original (not that some d grade Italian productions haven't tried it before with horrid results, but boy does that ever not count), but its fascinating given Spain's cultural obsessions. Its also one of the single scariest things I've seen in my life (this combines a number of my greatest fears and they win points for this, even if the last shot, the one that the American remake insists on showing you in all the adverts, is completely uninspired). I'll go no further in the details, but suffice it to say that it's brilliant, and so is [rec].

It couldn’t be clearer that foreign countries know how to make horror movies that make American films look like vomit on a canvas. Funniest to me is that new countries keep emerging from the woodworks with tiny films that show up every American horror film in the year of its release. [rec] has been remade as Quarantine, as those of you who’ve seen the truly stupid advertising campaigns know, and it looks like Let The Right One In is next for a bastardized American clone. Let me first explain that the Swedish film hasn’t even been out a month…usually these things take time. No, so quickly is Hollywood running out of ideas that Matt Reeves, director of this year’s realist Grand Guignol Cloverfield, has already been attached to direct. This is deeply saddening and pathetic and no one knows this better than Tomas Alfredson, the film' director. As he explained to Nyheter, a Swedish film website, "Remakes should be made of movies that aren’t very good, that gives you the chance to fix whatever has gone wrong, “I’m very proud of my movie and think it’s great, but the Americans might be of another opinion. The saddest thing for me would be to see that beautiful story made into something mainstream….if you’d spent years on painting a picture, you’d hate to hear buzz about a copy even before your version…Why can’t you just read the subtitles…?” Too right. [rec] didn't need to be retold; Let The Right One In shouldn't be retold.

The American remake culture is not, however born out of artistic necessity, but out of artistic poverty. If American studios would hire real minds with real ideas, they wouldn’t need to sink all their money into reproducing, shot for shot in many cases, subtle, cultural-specific fright films. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that The Day The Earth Stood Still, Ju-On, The Omen, or Psycho called out for repairs. Look at the last bout of remakes and you tell me if they were needed: Mirrors, The Eye, Bangkok Dangerous, Shutter, Prom Night, One Missed Call need I go on? My point is if they were arrogant enough to think that The Hills Have Eyes and Dawn of the Dead needed reinterpretation (two of the kinder ones, mind you) then where does it all end? The Thing*? The Exorcist? Alien?

Addendum Addendum
*Remake to hit theatres later this year