Thursday, September 21, 2017

mother!: In a Pastoral Bliss, Houseguests Open the Gates of Hell

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem in Darren Aronofsky's "mother!"
The first shot in mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s head-spinning fever dream of a movie, is of a woman wreathed in flame, gazing impassively into the camera. It’s a bracing introduction, but it’s fairly mundane when judged against the standards of this film, which treats—or perhaps torments—viewers with all manner of twisted, hallucinatory imagery. Is this testament to mother!’s genius or its inanity? The answer, even more so than with most pictures, is likely to be a matter of individual taste. Yet Aronofsky’s commitment to his demented vision is so absolute, so uncompromising, that mother! is all but certain to elicit a response, whether it be delight or disgust. By the time the closing credits roll on this maddening, mesmerizing movie, you may not be entirely sure what you just saw, but you’ll know for sure that you saw something.

What you see most of the time—and this is a decidedly sound piece of filmmaking strategy—is Jennifer Lawrence. For all the otherworldly sights in mother!—the bleeding floorboards and breathing walls, the glistening crystals and charred flesh—none is quite as compelling as its lead actress’ face. The camera, operated by Aronofsky’s longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique, spends roughly half the film studying Lawrence in intimate close-up, watching in quiet amazement as she creates a topography of human emotion. Her eyes widening and narrowing, her countenance rippling into expressions of anger, confusion, and dismay, Lawrence pulls you in, trapping you inside her character’s headspace, a surreal nightmare from which there’s no escape.

Friday, September 15, 2017

It: School's Out for Murder

Fear is universal, even if it’s also personal. We’re all afraid of something, but our fears are typically our own. As many pop-culture artifacts have done before, It attempts to trade on this inherent tension between the institutional and the individual, conjuring a parasitic, metaphysical evil that torments its victims by transforming into the very thing that terrifies them most. In this, the film invites you to imagine being confronted not just by the nightmarish visions visited upon its characters, but by the horrors of your own heart.

“What are you afraid of?” the trailer for It asks ominously. Good question. My own list of fears is quite lengthy, and while it contains a number of garden-variety phobias—snakes, rats, heights, etc.—it also includes a few anxieties specific to my temperament and amateur occupation. Like, say, the fear of being trapped in a theater watching a 135-minute horror movie that is by turns repetitive, silly, and dull.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ingrid Goes West: California, Here She Comes, with Hand Bags and Hashtags

Aubrey Plaza is a compelling nutcase in "Ingrid Goes West"
Obsession goes dark in Ingrid Goes West, Matt Spicer’s funny and sad debut feature about a profoundly lonely person and the phony friendship she foists upon a vapid quasi-celebrity. The misery and the menace of the stalker is nothing new in cinema—Spicer’s screenplay (co-written with David Branson Smith) even name-checks Single White Female—but here the trope of classical fixation is, ahem, filtered through the distinctly modern lens of social media. The movie’s protagonist is decidedly deranged, but she’s also strangely sympathetic, perhaps because she represents the logical extreme of a culture that tallies friends and competes for followers. When you’re constantly uploading exquisite images of your sun-kissed California lifestyle to thousands of adoring fans, isn’t it only rational to expect a rando from Pennsylvania to become unhealthily attached to you? #justsaying

Not that Ingrid Goes West is a crotchety, Luddite take on How We Live Now. While the script exhibits fluency in the linguistic and behavioral quirks of social media—the hashtags and emojis, the constant scrolling and double-tapping—it is too smart and savvy to insult an entire generation of potential customers. Ingrid Goes West is persistently scathing, almost as a matter of principle, but it directs its scorn toward its characters, not its viewers. And while it uses contemporary technology as its entry point, the feelings that it traffics in and stirs up—loneliness, jealousy, fervor, fear—are emphatically age-old. #instawisdom