Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) decided to move into a New York City apartment with a strange past involving women who ate children. Rosemary was enamored with the decor and Guy thought the area was a premiere place for his career as a budding actor. They lived next to Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), an elderly couple with whom Rosemary and Guy quickly grew fond of because they were so friendly and accommodating. But the couple’s happy existence was shattered when Rosemary had a dream of being raped by Satan and learned some time later that she was pregnant. Based on a novel by Ira Levin and directed by Roman Polanski, “Rosemary’s Baby” was a masterful understated horror film with a possibility of witchcraft at its center. It worked in two ways: Either Rosemary’s suspicion that the apartment complex was full of devil worshippers was indeed correct or it was simply that Rosemary didn’t know how to handle her pregnancy (after all, it was her first child) so her mind succumbed to paranoia over a period of nine months. Its brilliance was in the fact that we didn’t know which possibility was true until the final few scenes. When we finally found out, it almost didn’t matter because Rosemary’s journey felt complete. The picture capitalized on expertly rendered scenes of increasing creepiness. It ranged from Rosemary hearing weird chanting from behind the walls of their bedroom, her husband’s increasingly suspicious behavior, to our protagonist actually eating raw meat without her conscious mind’s control. I loved the scenes when the very pregnant Rosemary ran around New York City in broad daylight yet so much tension and horror surrounded her. With most horror pictures being set at night, especially their climax, Polanski proved that being surrounded by people in the middle of the day could be as terrifying as long as the elements were perfectly aligned. When the main character was in a phone booth waiting for an important call, we felt right there with her, wishing the phone would ring as soon as possible. We cared for the main character because Farrow instilled a certain fragility in Rosemary, not just because she was carrying a child, but because it felt like everyone wanted to control her. This was clearly shown when Minnie would imposingly wait for Rosemary to drink a special brew she made using plants from her herbal garden. We felt, like Rosemary, that there was something seriously wrong especially when the obstetrician, Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), wouldn’t prescribe her any pills after months of feeling pain in her stomach. “Rosemary’s Baby” is a thinking person’s horror film and the rewards are found in the way we interpret the images we see and sounds we hear. Imagine looking at the portrait of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. You stare long enough and you get the unsettling feeling she might be staring back.
Please Give (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
A married couple (Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt) living in New York City bought the apartment next door in hopes of expanding their home. All they had to do was to await the death of their elderly neighbor (Ann Morgan Guilbert) so they could move in and make the necessary changes. But the old woman, helped by her two granddaughters (Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet), did not seem to show any sign of passing away any time soon. “Please Give,” written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, was an effective comedy, which at times made me feel uneasy, because it showcased unlikable people doing and saying things that were, in the least, inappropriate. In others words, it captured real life. Even though it made me feel uncomfortable, I constantly laughed because I could imagine myself making the same decisions as the characters did here. Many scenes were familiar. For instance, while at a restaurant or a diner, we could hear banal conversations of others from a few tables away. There were also scenes where the characters expressed, without holding back, their anger toward their grandparents without regard for people, mostly strangers, who just happened to be there. I liked its honesty despite how painful certain truths were. I also enjoyed how I wasn’t quite sure whether the director was being emotionally sincere or poking fun at the characters as it moved from one scene to another. When Keener decided to volunteer for mentally challenged kids, on one hand, I was touched because I was reminded of the time when I used to volunteer at an Alzheimer’s facility. On some level, I felt like she was serious about wanting to commit and make a difference on those children’s lives. On the other hand, I thought it was very amusing because Keener’s character was such an insecure person but was not even aware of it. She felt like helping the world (she found giving money to homeless people rewarding) but she had important unresolved issues such as her guilt regarding her job and her increasingly difficult relationship with her pimply-faced teenage daughter (Sarah Steele). When the material became emotionally complex, I thought it was at its best. “Please Give” focused on people’s insecurities and their inability to deal with the way they saw themselves compared to how they thought the world perceived them. Best of all, in order to remain honest with the material, the ending gave a sufficient sense of closure to its characters without being melodramatic or heavy-handed. It felt just right because, while not every problem was solved, I felt like the characters would continue to be a work in progress.
★★ / ★★★★
Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” was about a manicurist (Catherine Deneuvre) and her steep descent into paranoia and eventual madness when her older sister (Yvonne Furneaux) and her married boyfriend go away for vacation. Deneuvre’s characters is interested in sex but at the same time repulsed by the idea of men touching her (hence the title). Hearing her sister and her boyfriend having sex in the next room (the sisters share an apartment), being pursued by a charming bachelor (John Fraser), and her lack of outlet for her negative feelings all contribute to her deteriorating mental state. I admired the movie, there’s no doubt about it, but I simply liked it for its style–the lack of special effects, the effective silent moments, and the haunting black and white images as the audiences were able to see what the lead character was seeing. I thought the story was pretty weak because it did not spend a solid amount of time to convince the audiences why we should care for the main character. I thought she was weak and had attachment issues. Why should I root for a character with barely a flickering ember inside of her? I also did not like the fact that a person with a mental illness was shown as someone who was violent and readily capable of killing (in reality, most aren’t). Lastly, I hated Polanski’s soundtrack, especially those horrid drums. Whenever I heard such loud bangings, it immediately took me out of the mood and left me frustrated. Instead, I would have loved to see more of Deneuvre and Fraser on screen together because I thought they had some sort of chemistry worth exploring. I understand that this had a small budget but that is far from the issue because I liked its realistic images of horror (hands coming out of walls and all). I definitely saw some parallels between this film and the masterful “Rosemary’s Baby” (also written and directed by Polanski). It’s just that this picture is not as fully realized because it needed more time in the editing room to cut off some unnecessary minutes.
★★★ / ★★★★
Having seen and being impressed with the remake called “Quarantine,” I just had to see the original. I think both are very effective even though they pretty much had the same scenes. In “[REC],” astutely directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, it had less exposition but the audiences quickly cared about the reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman. The reporter had a certain spunk and enthusiasm and what the cameraman saw, we saw so there was an automatic connection there. Everything starts off pretty light as the reporter interviewed the firemen about their every day happenings. Things quickly went for a darker turn when the firefighters got a call from an old apartment complex. At first, they thought it was just an old woman that fell and needed help. But when she started attacking and biting people, everyone pretty much knew that something more sinister was going on. People started dying in gruesome ways in the hands of zombie-like infected people and they get quarantined by city officials without an ounce of explanation. What I love about this film was its natural ability to build tension after each scene. There were moments when I thought that if I was stuck in the building with them, the exact same thing could happen so I was definitely more than engaged. “The Blair Witch Project” was undoubtedly this picture’s biggest inspiration but it managed to tilt just enough to have an identity of its own. The best part of the movie for me was the last fifteen to twenty minutes when they finally made it inside the apartment on the top floor. Such scenes revealed to us that it had more to it than “28 Days Later”-like zombies. The disease had a history and I wanted to know more about it. (Maybe a sequel?) But, of course, the scares did not end there. I felt like I was in that dark room with them as they tried to use the night vision option on the camera. I tried not to blink because I was expecting those “shock”/”jumpy” moments. But even then I was surprised and things popped out of nowhere. If one is a horror film fan, this is a must-see. However, this is definitely not for those who dislike shaky cameras in order to add some type of realism to its craft.
Cowboys & Angels (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★
The premise of “Cowboys & Angels,” directed by David Gleeson, was a shy and a bit naive 20-year-old (Michael Legge) who moves into the city because he wishes to have more excitement in his life. While looking a place to live, he gets paired up with a gay fashion student (Allen Leech). I’m glad this did not turn out to be one of those movies where the main character meets someone gay and realizes that he, too, was gay. In fact, I’m glad that this film wasn’t just about one thing. There’s something very modern about it; I felt like I watching a movie from the perspective of a real twentysomething. It was able to balance several subplots with ease: Legge’s frustration with being laughed at by girls whenever he shows interest in them, his inner conflict between being a civil servant or a student in an art school, his blossoming friendship with Leech, his unattainable crush (Amy Shiels) who has a history of dating women, and his temptations toward drugs to soothe his loneliness. Right from the get-go, I was interested in getting to know the lead character because he seemed to have this inner charm that most people failed to see (maybe it’s because of his lack of sense of style?). I thought the best parts of the film were the scenes when he would try to make a connection, sometimes to the point of borderline desperation, to the point where I just felt bad for him. I remember thinking, “Aww, I’ll be your friend!” because it was easy to tell that the constant rejections were eating him from the inside. I also enjoyed the scenes between Legge and Leech just hanging out in their apartment. They had this sort of bromance going on and it was really cute. That scene when Leech told Legge, “I’m going to do to you what I’ve always wanted to do ever since I laid my eyes on you” (or something along those lines) was really funny. I thought this film was going to be one of those thoughtless LGBT films but it turned out to be pretty unpredictable. If you enjoy LGBT films, see this movie if you can because it just might surprise you.
★★★ / ★★★★
This horror-comedy cult classic is about a medical student (Bruce Abbott) and his newfound eccentric roommate (the scene-stealing Jeffrey Combs) who brings people back from the dead. I think this being a low-budget film actually worked in its favor. There are only two locations in the film: Abbott’s apartment and the hospital’s morgue where the two lead characters work. By the end of the film, those places look completely familiar to the point where I felt like I’ve known those places for years. Another thing is that it consistently tried to push its limits–whether it’s the question of what would happen if we brought people back to life or just showing us impressive special effects such as blood, guts and severed body parts. Stuart Gordon, the director, should be commended because he was able to balance images of horror with situational comedy. I thought he did a neat job showing the audiences how far a doctor will go to complete his experiment, completely neglecting the ethics and moral conundrums that should be faced by a man of science. Gordon also had enough time to comment on the dynamics in the scientific community–that it isn’t any different than other jobs. In fact, jealousy is abound because pretty much everyone wants to discover the new best thing and some are willing to kill for the discovery. But one thing did bother me, though. I know it’s not meant to be realistic because it’s a zombie film but I couldn’t get over the fact that the decapitated head could control his own body. If the brain is not connected to the spinal cord, the body will not be able to move because the source of electrical signals that may trigger certain chemical signals that control everything else will not be present (such as muscle contraction). I cannot help but get a bit distracted whenever something is glaringly incorrect even for films that do not exactly scream realism. Still, if one is a fan of horror-comedies with interesting premises, campy and has a plethora of gore, “Re-Animator” is a must-see.