The Cell (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★
A psychiatrist (Jennifer Lopez) decided to go into the mind of a deeply catatonic schizophrenic serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) who turned his victims into dolls after torturing them. The reason she did it was because she felt as though she failed trying to help a former child patient who also had schizophrenia. She was able to try to help people despite their catatonic states because of an advanced technology which allowed connection between two or more psyches. I enjoyed this film even though the happenings outside of the mind were kind of weak. It reminded me of a very light hybrid of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Saw” franchise. I just did not believe the chemistry between Lopez and Vince Vaughn, an FBI agent assigned to the case. And I wished that the events that were happening in reality were approached as a gritty procedural drama-thriller to serve as a contrast against the hyperfantasy in the mind. However, the fantasy scenes were fascinating to me because anything could happen. There were some really chilling images in the killer’s mind such as the scene with the horse and when Lopez stumbled upon a room where the killer kept his victims and they looked like really scary dolls. As great as the images were, I admired the concept even more because it was able to hypothesize what could be inside a murderer’s mind–something that a lot of people (including myself) are curious about. However, I can admit that perhaps not a lot of people would enjoy this movie because it asked the audience to take a huge leap of faith. First, we had to accept the idea that a machine that was able to dive into someone’s mind could work despite the ethical reasons why we shouldn’t. Second, it was almost as though the movie asked the audience to sympathize with the killer–not his actions per se, but the person who was abused time and again as a child (Jake Thomas) who happened to have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. Written by Mark Protosevich and directed by Tarsem Singh, I’m giving “The Cell” a recommendation based on the fact that it was wildly imaginative at times and it was able to keep my interest despite the heavy material. However, I don’t recommend it to people who are looking for a more typical thriller involving the good guys looking for a bad guy who kidnapped an innocent and now the good guys had to find that innocent person before time ran out.
Cape Fear (1991)
★★ / ★★★★
Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” was about a man (Robert De Niro) who was recently released from a fourteen-year prison sentence. The moment he got out, he made it his goal to make his former lawyer’s (Nick Nolte) life a living hell by torturing his family (Jessica Lange as his wife and Juliette Lewis as his daughter) and his budding flame (Illeana Douglas). I think I was particularly tough with this film because I expect a lot coming into a Scorsese picture. In trying to analyze things such as motif, consistency of tone, foreshadowing and other elements, I found myself not impressed with the big picture. I thought the storytelling was scattered because there were too many times when De Niro and Nolte would confront and threaten each other and it got old pretty quickly. However, I did like the fact that everything about this film was exaggerated–the soundtrack, the characters’ emotional reactions to certain events, the decisions they chose to tackle–to the point where the film almost felt comical instead of chilling. The style somewhat reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s. The two scenes that stood out to me were when Lewis and De Niro had a “talk” in the theater and when De Niro broke into the family’s home as they tried to trap him. I felt like those scenes had Scorsese’s signature of wit, irony and just enough tension to keep us engaged because we were completely aware of the fact that the antagonist had the upperhand. Those scenes were so powerful, I felt like I held my breath during those times. Unfortunately, I felt like the rest of the picture did not quite hold up to those highs and I was somewhat underwhelmed when it was over. When I look back on it, while it was nice that De Niro’s character brought out a lot of almost repressed issues of the family, I still felt as though the characters were one dimensional. It was so unlike Scorsese’s movies because most of the time he features characters who are complex because they want to redeem themselves. In here, I saw Nolte’s character as a person who was a cheater and only felt bad for his actions because he got caught and problems were quickly proliferating in her life. If I did not know that Scorsese directed this picture, I most likely would not have guessed that it was indeed his work. Granted, one could argue that I shouldn’t compare “Cape Fear” to the director’s other projects as a basis of a film review. And I agree. I just wanted to emphasize the particular mindset I had while watching the movie. Perhaps with a second viewing I’ll be able to enjoy it more. The elements of creating a great thriller were certainly there but I felt like they did not come together as well as they should have had.
★★ / ★★★★
Jennifer Chambers Lynch (“Boxing Helena”) directed this thriller about the investigation of two FBI agents (Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman) regarding the murders of two serial killers. In the police station, they had three witnesses whose commonality was someone close to them was killed: a little girl (Ryan Simpkins), a drug addict (Pell James), and a police officer (Kent Harper). The FBI agents tried to put pieces of the puzzle together but not all of the information they gathered fit. I did like this movie until half-way through the picture. I found the murder scenes to be chilling and horrific. I also liked the idea that the inaccuracies of testimonies were explored in a meaningful way through extended sequences when the interviewers would ask pretty much the same questions in various ways. However, I grew tired of the movie because of the uninterminable scenes regarding the two officers shooting tires since they were either bored or had nothing better to do. I believe that it took away a significant amount of time from the film instead of really exploring who the killers were. A lot of critics mentioned the fact that Jennifer Lynch was David Lynch’s daughter. While that may be true, I thought their ways of telling a story were very different from each other, which was a good thing because I thought Jennifer Lynch really came into her own. However, toward the end of “Surveillance,” I felt that she tried to inject some of her father’s methods of storytelling. It did not work for me because I thought that the twist did not add much for the movie’s dramatic weight. In fact, I felt a bit cheated during the revelation. This film’s sinister tone definitely reminded me of memorable thrillers like “Se7en” and “The Usual Suspects” but, as a whole, it was more limp instead of haunting. I definitely wanted more emotional resonance instead of empty darkness and despair with far too many loose ends.
The Vanishing (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a novel by Tim Krabbé (called “The Golden Egg”), director George Sluizer tells the story of a man’s (Gene Bervoets) obsession of finding what really happened to his girlfriend (Johanna ter Steege) when she was kidnapped three years ago. I thought the first part of this film was nothing short of excellent. There was a certain menace in its tone which began when the couple’s car ran out of gas in the middle of a tunnel and cars were not able to see them until the cars got very close to their vehicle. Scenes like that made me believe that something bad was going to happen so I couldn’t help but put a guard up. Surprisingly enough, the truly horrific things happened whenever I wasn’t expecting them so I was often curious where the story was going to go. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu was very convincing as the kidnapper and (creepy) family man. There was something not right about his relationship with his wife and daughters but what I liked was that the movie wasn’t quite so obvious about it. It was the specific glances and silences between the characters that gave the chills to my spine. Sluizer made an interesting decision after the abduction happened; we got to see the kidnapper’s methods on how he planned to commit the crimes down to his thoughts and outlook on life when he was sixteen years old. It’s easy to tell that this is not a typical psychological thriller movie because it doesn’t succumb to the violence and graphic blood and guts in order to pull of scares. It’s more crafty and intelligent than that because it’s the unsaid and unseen elements that convinced me that it had a lasting power after the credits stopped rolling. Questions such as “What would I have done if that happened to me?” popped into my head so I was really involved in it. Having said all that, I don’t think this will appeal much to most younger viewers because it thrives on subtelty. If one is looking for overt killings where the film shows heads being decapitated, this will surely not impress. But if one is looking for movies that aren’t particularly violent but still chilling to the bone, this is the one to see.