Tag: nicolas pesce

The Grudge

The Grudge (2020)
★ / ★★★★

Nicolas Pesce’s “The Grudge” is a most tepid a remake of Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on.” It is so uninspired that in the middle of it, I was compelled to check if this writer-director was the same person who helmed “The Eyes of My Mother,” a terrific debut film about how crippling loneliness and deep trauma can destroy the soul of a person. This remake, on the other hand, is not about anything—of substance or value. It contains plot, characters, and lame attempts to scare but it is hollow inside. Who is this movie for? Other than to make money, what is the point of it? Who can be proud of putting this junk out there and wasting people’s time and money?

We learn nothing about the vengeful ghost other than it possesses the ability latch onto a person once that individual visits the place it is haunting. In the opening scene, which takes place in 2004, we meet a terrified Tokyo-based American nurse (Tara Westwood) who calls home to inform her family that she’ll be returning. In 2006, we meet Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) who moves to Pennsylvania following her husband’s death due to cancer. She is assigned to work with Detective Goodman (Demián Bichir) and soon they visit a possible crime scene involving an abandoned car with a rotting corpse inside. They find an address in the glove compartment: 44 Reyburn Drive. Another cop mentions the Landers case and soon the curious Detective Muldoon becomes obsessed in learning more about the triple homicide.

We meet almost a dozen characters between its 2004 and 2006 timelines. Although they are played by the likes of John Cho, Frankie Faison, Betty Gilpin, and Lin Shaye, these performers are given nothing substantive to work with. And so, in order to create a semblance of intrigue, a few of them rely on histrionics, from yelling to extreme behaviors, and the rest utter lines in a most robotic fashion. Even they are unable to mask their boredom despite being in the movie—and being paid. It is clear that the problem lies in the screenplay. It commands no tension.

Consider: we already know the fates of most of the characters given that Detective Muldoon has a police file in hand. (While Westwood tries her best in looking thoughtful while staring at the photos, notice her character’s detective work is minimal at best. We do not get a sense of her intelligence, resourcefulness, and attitude toward her line of work.) And so it is most critical to present intriguing details specific to the unsolved case. Every scene must function as a step forward to a conclusion that’s sensical within the story’s universe despite its supernatural elements. You guessed it: This is a horror film so generic that mere ten minutes into it, one can surmise that it will offer a non-ending. It assumes that viewers are stupid enough to mistake its laziness for being chilling. This is most pessimistic filmmaking.

Even the special, visual, and make-up effects are not at all memorable. For example, when a figure pops out of the corner of the screen, it is so instantaneous that we never get a chance to appreciate the performance behind the would-be scary facade, the minute touches on dirty or bloody clothing, the look of death or anger on their faces. It gives the impression that the filmmakers themselves are not proud of their work. This “Grudge” lacks energy, an eye for what makes a scary situation effectively, basic pacing, and a distinctive vision. A cheap haunted house walkthrough is scarier than this. And a lot shorter.


Piercing (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Nicolas Pesce’s bizarre dark comedy-thriller “Piercing” is a work that exists solely to test the patience. Its premise exhibits some promise: a man who wishes to murder his infant child books a hotel, goes on a business trip, and concocts a plan to kill a prostitute instead. However, both the writing and execution do not function on a high enough level and so what results is a project that barely passes as student film. And, yes, it is yet another one of those movies that demonizes S&M for the sake of shock value. I was nauseated by its desperation to provide twists rather than to tell a good story that just happens to have twists.

Christopher Abbott is one of the most underrated actors working today and there are moments when he elevates the subpar screenplay almost singlehandedly. He is a great communicator using only his eyes. Even a blink—when it is used and how long it lasts—is calculated. Observe closely as Reed looks at his baby and contemplates stabbing her. Instead of turning his eyes blank, as he would during some moments he shares with the prostitute he hires later (Mia Wasikowska), there is humanity present as the man—the father—wrestles against the monster that is consuming him slowly but surely. On occasion, Abbott makes a number of fresh choices under the weight of a limited screenplay; at times I wanted to scream at the movie for not committing hard enough—at the very least around the level of its lead.

Particularly annoying are the so-called teases. I found them to be unfunny and not the least bit entertaining. For instance, just when a character is about to get seriously hurt or maimed, the weapon is withdrawn and the person in power walks away as if to gloat. This trick is utilized so often that eventually we stop buying into the possibility that the situation would turn grim. As a thriller with some horror elements, particularly with a handful of its hallucinatory imagery, the diminishing returns proves deadly in terms of tension-building as well as providing a requisite catharsis. In the middle of it, I wondered how the director can expect for the audience to take his project seriously when he himself is not able to do the same.

Reed is shown to exhibit signs of a mental illness such as hearing voices that aren’t there and experiencing visual hallucinations. Coupled with these are quick flashbacks of an extremely traumatic childhood that likely contributed in sending his mental state over the edge. Neither the images nor the approach in tackling the subject of mental illness in relation to how such factors might impact behavior are particularly inspired. In fact, we are provided recycled clichés that executed much stronger and with more intent in other movies.

Skip “Piercing” and watch Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” instead. The latter picture expertly shows how laughter can be transformed into gasps of horror at a drop of a hat. We detest the Patrick Bateman character but we are enamored and fascinated by him, his mind, his lifestyle. He is such a curious subject that there comes a point where we do not wish for him to be captured by the authorities. We crave to explore the next layer of his deranged mind. By comparison, we wish for “Piercing” to be over far sooner than its relatively short running time of seventy-five minutes.

The Eyes of My Mother

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Here is a horror film that abstains from showing violence but it is horrifying all the same. Instead, it relies on images before and after a particular action is taken—for instance, an individual with a weapon approaching a cowering target, a pool of blood being wiped off the floor, a cow’s head sitting on the kitchen table. By excising the act of violence completely, the picture leaves plenty to the imagination. In fact, it gives the viewer the opportunity to imagine something worse than what had actually occurred. Thus, in a way, an argument can be made that this picture uses horror films we’ve seen before to its advantage.

Equipped with intelligent writing and assured direction by Nicolas Pesce, “The Eyes of My Mother,” beautifully photographed in black-and-white, tells the story of a young girl named Francisca (Olivia Bond) who witnessed the murder of her mother in their farmhouse. (Diana Agostini who plays the mother gives a magnetic performance despite her limited time on screen.) Unspooling over several decades, we observe how Francisca’s crippling loneliness, combined with the fact that neither of her parents has taught her that moving on is an essential part of life, shaped a void of a person, completely detached from what is right and what is wrong. And because she has a severely limited moral compass, if she had any at all, it makes the character more fascinating—and terrifying. To Francisca, another human being is equivalent to the cattle she must care for a time… then having to kill it.

Notice how silence is utilized as an overwhelming presence in the farmhouse. There is no score serving as a signal to what we should expect or how we should feel. There is no soundtrack that booms suddenly before or after a violent clash. Instead, sounds like the rustling of the leaves, drawers beings opened, a wheelbarrow being dragged through the woods are amplified. Meanwhile, when characters speak, it sounds as though their voices are just a bit muffled—contrast to the sharp, defined sounds of objects making contact on surfaces. Is this how it is like to live inside Francisca’s body? Is this how she processes the world around her? Or is it that the writer-director wishes to keep us off-balance, a way to keep us on our toes for the next plot development?

Kika Magalhães plays adult Francisca with such an alarming intensity, I could not keep my eyes off her. I admired how she interprets the character. For example, notice how Magalhães makes the decision to make Francisca move slowly when by herself. When the character is sitting in the kitchen with a plate of food in front of her, there is a lack of pleasure in Francisca’s interaction with her meal; there is no energy in the way she maneuvers the utensils; there is, however, a blankness, a far away look, in her eyes. Her skeletal frame moves about the house but her spirit, it seems, had been buried, rotten away alongside her mother’s mutilated corpse.

Austere and disturbing, “The Eyes of My Mother” commands an unrelenting vision and precise execution. So many modern horror films aspire to be messy, loud, gratuitous—especially when violence is employed. This picture takes on the opposite approach: it is clinical, disquieting, every object in each room has its rightful place, there is a detachment amongst all human interactions. It is so grounded in reality that there comes a point where we remind ourselves that somewhere out there, especially in the isolated areas of the country, is a Francisca, waiting.