The Brood (1979)
★★★ / ★★★★
Frank (Art Hindle) found his daughter (Cindy Hinds) covered in bruises and bite marks. To Frank, there was only one person to blame–the mother (Samantha Eggar) who was entitled weekly visitations from a psychiatric institution run by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), a doctor who had a strange way of providing therapy to his patients. It seemed as though he induced his patients into deep hypnosis. By pretending to be key figures from a specific patient’s life, they engaged in conversations and sorted through many emotions in hopes of arriving at some form of closure. Writer-director David Cronenberg took a lot of risks with this project by focusing on how negative emotions could potentially manifest themselves physically. There was true horror when the mutants started killing people. Were they real or were they simply a product of the mind? During an autopsy of one of the mutants, it was revealed to resemble a human but it did not have a navel. When the film was concerned with specifics regarding the mutants and how the new therapy technique worked, I was most fascinated. There also came a point when I stopped and asked myself if I was being paranoid for characters. Perhaps there was a scientific explanation that connected all the strange happenings. But the movie was not just about the horror of the unknown corners of our minds. It was also about ethics such as a doctor’s relationship with his patients. How far should we push a patient to go through therapy when, if they had been in extended states of hypnosis which possibly altered their judgments, they were not aware of its effectiveness? Or worse, they were not allowed to see their loved ones so that they, too, could see how the therapy was coming along. I was constantly challenged because metaphysical and psychological questions often came up and just when I thought I arrived at a valid conclusion, new evidence made me question. In a way, it felt like I was analyzing the movie as my own patient. Even though it asked us to take certain leaps of faith such as the so-called psychoplasmic therapy, the material had a solid grasp between playing within the extremes based on today’s established psychology (such as psychosomatic disorders) and total unbelievability. The final twenty minutes was very memorable because it offered grotesque images even the most hardcore horror fans would be impressed with. “The Brood” may have been deliberately slow-paced but the rewards were plentiful. It was the kind of horror picture that did not sacrifice intelligence and actually incited thoughtful discussion about mutation as a tool (or side effect) of therapy.
★★ / ★★★★
Half-brothers Clay (Dennis Haysbert) and Vincent (Michael Harris) met for the first time. Everyone in the film, including the two, thought they looked alike. However, the audience knew better because they were obviously nothing alike in terms of physicality: Clay was an African-American who looked like a linebacker and Vincent was a Caucasian who looked frail but with a mind full of devious intentions. Vincent wanted to get away with murder so he tried to fake his death by using Clay’s body in a car explosion. However, Clay lived without any memory of who he was. It was up to Dr. Descartes (Mel Harris) to reconstruct Clay’s face and Dr. Shinoda (Sab Shimono) to reconstruct Clay’s memories. Written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, “Suture” had a fascinating, almost Hitchcock-ian premise but it ultimately failed to deliver because Clay’s journey to eventually realizing what happened to him lacked tension. Instead of keeping his relationship with Dr. Descartes strictly professional, they got involved in a romantic relationship. In a way, that romance was a distraction instead of really exploring interesting questions involving living a life that was not meant to be. As a person of science, I also had questions about Dr. Shinoda’s techniques in the attempt to recover Clay’s memory. I’m not quite sure if the film was aiming for accuracy but I believe Freudian methods are far from the most effective ways in treating amnesia (at least from what I’ve been taught). The movie only regained its footing near end when Vincent finally decided to finish off what he had started. It was a nailbiting scene because the characters moved ever so slowly and so quietly to the point where the audiences were keen on potential mistakes that could cost a character his life. I loved that the movie was gorgeously shot in black and white but at the same time it was disappointing because the filmmakers did not play with shadows. It would have been a perfect because the characters, especially Vincent, had something to hide and he was often in the dark in terms of what he was thinking and his true motivations. Furthermore, it would have been more interesting if Vincent had become a more sympathetic figure over time instead of remaining to be a one-dimensional cold-blooded killer. The same goes for Clay: it would have been much more fun to watch the film if his desperation had led him to make decisions that we did not necessarily agree with. In the end, I wanted to see the malleability, fluidity and complexity of identity. Instead of taking a step beyond the switching identity storyline, it stayed within the conventions and it failed to leave a lasting memory.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“The Fourth Kind,” written and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, was about a psychologist (Milla Jovovich) who started to notice something strange about the stories of her patients which involved an owl and waking up in the middle of the night. Curious of the weird phenomenon, she started to investigate in order to get to the bottom of what was really going on: was the town in Alaska a place where aliens decided to conduct experiments on people or was the whole thing a case of deep hypnotism gone bad? Osundanmi used the technique of blending in “real” footages with dramatization but it did not quite work for me. I believe the style was a double-edged sword: mixing in the live footages gave the illusion that what we were seeing was real, but at the same time, the more the director used it, the less I believed in its realism. The “real” footages had a very convenient way of turning into static just when a person would start speaking in Sumerian and the persons’ bodies being contorted in gruesome ways. If such things were real, in order to truly scare the audiences, those would have been shown. But other than the whole is-it-real-or-is-it-not-real debate, I found the whole picture to be very convoluted. I wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a horror film, a science fiction film, a hybrid of both, or a mystery picture. Since it did not know what it wanted to be, it did not have a solid footing with its story and so it was pretty difficult to sit through. While the acting was fine, I think the main problem was the writing. I didn’t understand why Jovovich’s son hated her so much–in fact, I was just really annoyed with him because he was just a brat. The whole angle regarding Jovovich’s husband being stabbed to death in his sleep could have been completely taken out. In the end, I thought it was just a weak justification that the movie didn’t have enough meat to tell a well-told story. Also, like most terrible horror movies, the director chose to blast the score when something “shocking” happened. And like most bad horror films, I’m going to say the same thing–amplifying the sound is not scary, it’s annoying. It shows that the movie doesn’t have enough confidence to rely on the images being presented on screen. Scaring us with loud music is not the same thing as scaring us when we’re actually seeing something horrific. I don’t know from where Osunsanmi learned to make movies or who he looked up to before he made movies but he needs to go back to Horror 101 and ascertain why classic horror movies gained such status. It’s about simplicity, a well-written script and slow suspense. It’s not about gimmicks and loud music. I wished I was abducted by aliens while watching this movie because it was just that bad.