Fermat’s Room (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Galois (Alejo Sauras) claimed to have solved one of mathematics’ greatest mysteries called Goldbach’s Theorem which had given him a high profile in academia. But one afternoon, he found his room ransacked and his research was gone. A couple of months later, Galois and three other brilliant minds (Elena Ballesteros, Santi Millán, Lluís Homar) were invited for a cryptic gathering to tackle a mysterious riddle. But before they knew it, almost immediately after their host (Federico Luppi) left the room, they had to solve riddles in under one minute. Failure to have done so would result in the room getting smaller and smaller and threatened to crush them. Could the four find a way out before they turned into pancakes? “Fermat’s Room” was a surprising film because I thought the puzzles the characters were expected to solve relied solely on math problems. I was ready. It turned out that the puzzles required a solid amount of logic. I was fascinated with the events that transpired because for supposedly having four highly intelligent individuals, they didn’t always choose to make the best decisions. Their guilt got in the way, they argued like time wasn’t of the essence, and resulted to aggression (which was amusing at times) instead of focusing their energy and brain power to prevent the walls from closing in. But, in a way, we wanted the walls to get closer and closer because the stakes became that much higher. As the film went on, we realized that the characters’ personalities resembled that of negatively charged electrons in an increasingly claustrophobic space. Their temperaments were repulsive to each other and violence inevitably entered their already unfortunate situation as they attempted to fight for survival. Written and directed by Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña, half the fun of watching their work was recognizing (and learning to ignore some of) the many red herrings they threw at us. The film undoubtedly paralleled James Wan’s grizzly “Saw,” not because of the gore or the torture, but because its twists managed to sneak up from behind us via preoccupying us with the images that stared us in the eyes. Was the perpetrator of the sick game recording the players’ progress and watching from the outside or was he (or she) one of our four protagonists? I wish the film provided more background information about our protagonists. By not doing so, it purposely kept us in the dark so we would jump to incorrect conclusions. It didn’t need to keep us in the dark. With such a thick mystery in the center with four or five things going on simultaneously, it was easy enough to overlook key details. “La habitación de Fermat” had its rewards and the thrills were not confined in that one room.
★★★ / ★★★★
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a truck driver, woke up in a wooden coffin underground. All he could remember was the fact that he and his fellow U.S. contractors were ambushed by a group of Iraqis. Believing that he was a soldier, Paul was contacted via a cell phone by one of the kidnappers named Jabir (voiced by José Luis García Pérez) who wanted five million dollars in exchange for Paul’s freedom. Written by Chris Sparling and directed by Rodrigo Cortés, “Buried” is one of the more effective films about a character being stuck in one place and facing a battle against time. In this instance, with each passing second, Paul’s source of oxygen was steadily being depleted. The picture’s main challenge was to keep its audiences engaged for the entire running time. I thought it didn’t have a problem with keeping us at the edge of our seats. After Paul learned about his situation, he responded like a normal person: fear, anger, and confusion appeared all at once. We were left in absolute horror and wondered how he could possibly get out of the coffin with only a lighter, a small knife, a candle, a flashlight, and a cell phone. I didn’t always agree with Paul’s decisions but there was no doubt that I wanted him to get out of there. For example, he called people who didn’t have the power or authority to do anything about his increasingly desperate situation. Then he would yell or scream at them if they couldn’t do anything to help. Perhaps he knew that. But he called anyway because he needed someone to talk to since his family in the United States wouldn’t answer his calls. Being in a state of terror can lead us to do things that don’t make much sense. Or perhaps it was out of convenience because the writer wanted to poke fun of the ridiculous bureaucracies that are supposedly aimed to protect its people. But what completely failed to work for me were the crane shots of Paul lying in a coffin. It happened more than once and I was taken out of the moment each time. For the majority of the time, there was wood a few inches from Paul’s face and it was weird to see it suddenly disappear when such a shot was taken. Some level of tension was lost. There were other inconsistencies such as the main character knowing that the burning of a candle required oxygen (he must have paid attention in Chemistry), yet he kept screaming to the top of his lungs from frustration. Nevertheless, the highly effective thrills made up for the film’s missteps. It may not look like much but I thought it was ambitious because we spent the entire time in the coffin yet we were consistently entertained. Most mainstream projects have proven that minimalism is difficult to pull off. But when it’s done right, as “Buried” has shown, it can do wonders.
★★ / ★★★★
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.
★★★ / ★★★★
I was surprised by the quality of this little horror film. Directed by Toby Wilkins, “Splinter” is a story about a couple going camping on their anniversary (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner) and are ambushed by an escaped convict (Shea Whigham) and his girlfriend (Rachel Kerbs). Initially enemies, the two couples had to team up right away after running over a creature that feeds off human and animal blood. Not to mention that it can take over its host after it feeds off the host’s blood. I was horrified because of the way the body moved when the creature was controlling its victim’s bodies. It reminded me of the possessed girl in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and those rabid zombies in “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Even though this is a small film, it was surprising how much gore it has. It goes to show that a script with smarts and a creative director can go a long way. I was also impressed by the acting. Even though I liked the “good guys” right away because they were cute and funny together, I also found myself feeling for the “bad guys” because of their circumstance. Another thing I liked about this film was that it didn’t even bother to explain where the creature came from. Most creature-feature films fall for the trap of having to elucidate why and how a monster came into existence. I was glad that this one did not. If one is a fan of horror movies where the characters are trapped in one place (in this case, in a gas station), the characters are smart but not above being silly, and there’s a plethora of effective thrills, “Splinter” is definitely the one to see. I couldn’t help but shudder (and maybe even squeal a bit) during some of the most intense scenes.
★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.