Tag: nightmare

Take Shelter


Take Shelter (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Curtis (Michael Shannon) was a hardworking construction worker who was suddenly struck by intense nightmares about an upcoming storm. In the dream, rain had the properties of motor oil and people threatened to inflict violence on him and abduct his daughter (Tova Stewart). Experiencing them every night, Curtis suspected that they were more than just recurring bad dreams. He felt an overwhelming need to clean out and prepare the storm shelter in the backyard because something terrible was coming. “Take Shelter,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols, successfully placed us into the mind of a possible paranoid schizophrenic. Although our protagonist’s dreams were strange, violent, and horrific, the material sympathized with Curtis by focusing on how his family, friends, and co-workers reacted to his increasingly unexplainable behaviors. Since not one of them knew what he was going through, the tension was embedded in how Curtis desperately tried to keep hiding his affliction. As his condition worsened, people just assumed it was either due to stress or lack of sleep. Shannon did a wonderful job juggling unmentioned details of his character by simply using his solemnly desperate eyes and tall, somewhat lanky figure. While it was practical that Curtis would be ashamed to be the topic of small town gossip, the cover-up, I think, was for the purpose of protecting his family. Having gone through the shame of having a mother who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Curtis didn’t want for his wife and child to experience what he went through many years prior. Furthermore, Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and Curtis’ daughter was a deaf child on the verge of receiving a cochlear implant. As we all know, most people tend to hold a certain idea toward “handicapables.” While the nightmares commanded a magnetic realism, I was most fascinated with and craved more of the scenes where Curtis tried to seek help from professionals. The look they gave him as they assessed what was wrong and the look he gave them when they admitted there were no easy solutions was an emotional roller coaster. The screenplay was smart in maintaining an unclear position relative to Curtis’ condition. Certain signs, like delusions and hallucinations, led to an undiagnosed mental illness, but portentous images, like birds flying as though they’ve gone crazy, pointed to the possibility of the world coming to an end. While what was really happening to Curtis could and did spark rousing debates, it doesn’t matter to me which camp is right. And the way I see it, you shouldn’t either. The first point the film wanted to make was for us, like most schizophrenics, not to be able to descry between fantasy and reality. Since we couldn’t, reflected by different interpretations of what “really” happened, the writer-director successfully placed us into a mentally ill person’s shoes. The second point is the social angle from the fear of being considered an aberration by one’s community, yes, even one’s family, and having to live with a label for the rest of one’s life. If anything, the picture subtly argues that we should learn to be more sympathetic of other people’s plight; it’s easy to judge but it takes a bit of effort to understand.

Total Recall


Total Recall (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) had a recurring nightmare about being with a brunette (Rachel Ticotin) in Mars. Feeling like he needed a break from his job, he decided to get an operation done in which scientists would upload memories of him going on a vacation onto his brain. The operation failed (with disastrous results) because, as it turned out, the current memory Douglas perceived to be his real life was simply artificial. Douglas decided to go to Mars and face a corporate leader (Ronny Cox) who was behind the charade. However, before he left, he had to face his wife (Sharon Stone) who felt strongly against his course of action. The first few minutes of the film did not give me a good impression. I thought the acting was laughable, especially from the lead, and I wasn’t quite sure if the campiness was intentional. But as it went on, I became more impressed with its creativity in terms of the questions it brought up regarding which reality was real, the technologies that defined the future, and the intense action sequences. I had fun with its many product placements which were popular back in the late 80s but lost selling power after twenty years. Furthermore, for a science fiction film, I did not expect it to have so much blood. There were times when I felt like I was watching a horror film. The picture constantly changed gears. It wasn’t just about Douglas’ quest to find his true identity. There was a subplot about humans and mutants in Mars who decided to join forces and rebel against the greedy corporate leader. Cox’ character was determined to keep the element that could ultimately create atmosphere in Mars for himself for the sake of cash flow. Slow death of dozens of lives due to a lack of oxygen meant absolutely nothing to him. In a nutshell, I was convinced that he was a villain worth experiencing a painful demise. “Total Recall,” based on a short story by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and directed by Paul Verhoeven, was a very entertaining film because it had a plethora of ideas that shaped and defined its underlying themes. Impressive special and visual effects were abound which helped to elevate our perception of the futuristic world. After the main character’s discovery that his life was a simply a fabrication, every scene that followed was thrilling action scene. But there was a question that lingered up until the final scene: Was everything we saw reality or was it the “perfect” fantasy vacation that Douglas asked for?

Opera


Opera (1987)
★★ / ★★★★

The main actress for an upcoming play for “Macbeth” was hit by a car. Betty (Cristina Marsillach), much to her surprise, was offered and almost immediately accepted the role despite her reluctance due to the popular curse that surrounded the production of the play. It wasn’t long until a sadistic killer emerged and started murdering members of the crew. Dario Argento, the writer and director, had a strange fixation for the bizarre. For instance, he would constantly move his camera to achieve an extreme close-up to revel every drop of emotion from his actors and animals, in this case, crows. I also noticed that he had a penchant for playing soothing music directly after a scene in which someone was killed in the most gruesome way. The way he used opera and heavy metal music reflected the contrasting elements between opera and horror. Without a doubt, the film was stylish but I’m afraid, when I look underneath its technical achievements, it was just another slasher flick. Finding out the identity of the killer was the main purpose. Was it the play’s director (Ian Charleson)? The detective (Urbano Barberini) in charge of solving the killing spree? Betty’s fiesty publicist (Daria Nicolodi)? Betty’s harmless romantic interest (William McNamara)? It was also mentioned that Betty had dreamed of the killer’s activities ever since she was a child. However, the identity of the killer, his or her motives, and the childhood nightmares did not come together in way that made sense, let alone in a meaningful and rewarding way. When the characters struggled for their lives, their common sense were out the window as they tried to weigh the pros and cons between, for instance, trying to get the telephone sitting in a dark corner and getting out of the apartment. The obvious answer would be to get out of the apartment and run like one was competing in a 100-meter dash in the Olympics. No one in their right mind, when pushed in a corner to be gutted, would waste time thinking about the “smarter” decision. It’s all about instincts. However, I did enjoy some moments of creativity. I thought it was creepy how the killer forced Betty to watch the murders by tying her up and taping needles under her eyes to “motivate” her not to blink (if she does, her eyelids would touch the needles) and the way the crew found out the killer’s identity. Still, I can’t quite recommend “Opera” because its lack of cohesion in terms of its story made it painfully average.

Dreamscape


Dreamscape (1984)
★★ / ★★★★

A government research facility (led by Max von Sydow) had begun to use psychics to go into people’s dreams and actively stop whatever it was that gave people nightmares. However, some of the psychics weren’t strong enough to withstand certain psyches so the enigmatic facility hired Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) who earned money by using his abilities in the racetracks. On the side, a political leader (Christopher Plummer) wanted to use the research to obtain more power in the government via a president’s (Eddie Albert) assassination. “Dreamscape,” directed by Joseph Ruben, had a lot of great ideas but it was poor in execution so the film turned out average and often lackluster. I didn’t mind the dated special and visual effects because, at least for me, how ideas are put together is what matters most in a science fiction picture. There were far too many glaring distractions such as the unethical romance between the characters of Quaid (the subject) and the Kate Capshaw (the scientist). There could have been more tension between the two if they didn’t end up in bed together but instead they suffered from flirtations that led to dead-ends. It could also have added another dimension to the material because the research oftentimes led to actual dead-ends. The film was at its best when it explored how scary it was to plunge into a stranger’s dreams. It should have taken advantage of the fact that the seemingly innocuous individuals on the outside may have the darkest subconsciousness. Since the subject of the picture had such a high concept, it should have explored the unpredictability of fringe science. Another interesting aspect of the story was the other psychic (David Patrick Kelly) named Tommy who mastered how to navigate through other people’s psyches. As Alex’ rival, Tommy should have been exponentially more menacing. Instead, I found him to be a bit too cartoonish and it was difficult for me to see him as a villainous parasite. And he didn’t need to be so obvious. I think the best villains are the ones who are insidious, the ones who pretend to be the hero’s friend. “Dreamscape” was not a bad movie but it needed a lot of editing (such as getting rid of the annoying music that signaled audiences that a character was a good guy or a bad guy, depending which character was introduced) and sharpening of ideas. I enjoyed that the plot wasn’t too complicated but it needed a bit of edge and more friction between the subjects, the experimenters, and the outside parties. Potential got this film halfway to greatness but it needed something extra–something beyond the conspiracy and the nightmares.

Inception


Inception (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off like a spy film: the glamorous and exotic locale, fashionable suits, femme fatales. But unlike typical espionage pictures, the first half of the characters’ goal was not to steal a valuable object but an idea located deep inside a target’s dreams. The second (and more difficult) half was to get away with it by allowing the target to wake and continue living his life as if nothing had been taken away from him. This simplified two-step process was known as “extraction,” in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a leading expert. Cobb was not allowed to return to the United States to see his children so Kaito (Ken Watanabe) made an offer that Cobb simply could not refuse: to plant an idea in a future corporate leader’s mind (Cillian Murphy), known as “inception,” which had rarely been done before. If this last massion was successful, it would lead to Cobb’s freedom. In order to accomplish the mission, Cobb had to assemble a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) with very special talents and they had to dive in the target’s subconscious while navigating their way through defenses set up by the mind and the secrets Cobb kept from his unsuspecting team.

When the movie started, I barely had any idea what was happening. I knew something exciting was happening on screen because of the intricate action sequences and splendid visuals but as far as the story went, it was still nondescript. However, that was not at all a problem because the film eventually established the elementary elements required so that we could have an understanding of what was about to happen. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time, I was impressed with its pacing. There was an assigned time for getting to know the lead character in terms of his career, his past, and his inner demons. Once I had a somewhat clear idea of his motivations, I immediately felt that there was something wrong with the way he saw the world and the specifics were eventually revealed in an elegant, sometimes emotional, and often mind-bending manner. Their missions were often sabotaged by Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s projection of his wife who had passed away, due to an unsolved guilt that he constantly pushed away. Throughout the course of the film, that guilt, like Mal, became more powerful and became a hindrance that the main character and his team could no longer set aside. Anyone with a background in Psychology will truly appreciate the film’s level of intelligence in terms of Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary idea involving the subconscious manifesting in our every day lives and maintaining our mental homeostasis. But what impressed me even more was the minute details in the script such as the characters mentioning topics such as positive and negative emotions interacting and which side had more power over the other, one’s sense of reality while being in a dream… within a dream, and even questions like “If we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?” were acknowledged. That’s one of the things I loved about the film: it was able to present ideas we are aware of but it just had enough dark twist to create something original.

As with most movies with grand ambitions, I had some questions left unanswered. What about those instances when we are aware that we are dreaming and we can control what will happen in our dreams? I have experienced such a phenomenon time and again (and I’m sure others have as well) and I was curious if and how the movie could explain such a strange occurrence. And what about those moments when we sleep but we are not yet dreaming? What if our dreams are interrupted? Sure, the team injected chemicals in their bodies to stabilize the feeling of reality in dreams but, as the movie perfectly illustrated, nothing completely goes according to plan. Perhaps I’m just being more analytical than I should be thanks to the fascinating sleep studies I encountered in Neurobiology and Psychology courses. But I believe a mark of a great film is open to question, interpretation and debate. I say we question because we have embraced the material and we are hungry for more. That’s how I know I’m emotionally and intellectually invested in a film. That absolute killer final shot and the audiences’ collective sigh of anticipation for the clear-cut answer as the screen cut to black was simply icing on the cake.

“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was certainly worth over a year’s wait since it was still in pre-production. I remember trying look for more information about it during my midterm study breaks (and getting so caught up in it) so I am completely elated that it was finally released and it turned out to be one of the finest and most rewarding movies of 2010. It may not have been its goal but “Inception” certainly adds a much needed positive reputation to mainstream movies, especially in a season full of sequels and spoon-fed entertainment. I was optimistic early 2010 in terms of the quality of movies about to be released in theaters, especially when Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” came out, but now I am more than convinced that the film industry is experiencing a drought of refreshing and daring ideas. Some critics may compare “Inception” to “The Matrix” (both great movies) but I think “Inception” functions on a higher level overall and it has an identity of its own. Perhaps an injection of new blood that is “Inception” will inspire movie studios to take more risks in terms of which movies they green light. There is no doubt that mindless, swashbuckling popcorn adventures or even extremely diluted romantic comedies have their place in the market. But with the critical and mass success of “Inception,” it shows that audiences are always ready to be inspired by new ideas and to dream a little bigger.

A Nightmare on Elm Street


A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Five teenagers (Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy and Kellan Lutz) with a mysterious past tried the best they could to not fall asleep because a killer named Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) wanted to murder them in their dreams causing the teenagers to die in actuality. Being a big fan of the original, I’m happy with this reimagining (falsely labeled as a remake) of 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” What I liked about it was the fact that it was more story-driven but the jump-out-of-your-seats scares were still there. While the acting from the teenagers was nothing special (and I am a fan of Gallner and Dekker), I did enjoy Haley’s interpretation of the infamous dream killer. The playful personality was still there but I felt like this version of Freddy had more darkness in him. I thought it was creepy how he would let a teenager escape for kicks only to kill the person without remorse once he had this fun. Out of the series, I think this installment had the best visual effects and such were used in an interesting way. (Although I also very much enjoyed Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare.”) For instance, when a character was in a dream and he or she was on the verge of waking up, the images of the dream world and reality would mix. So in a way, the visual effects weren’t just used for kicks. They were used to enhance the experience. However, I did wish that the writers would have had more fun with the characters in terms of finding ways to stay awake. Other than taking stimulating drugs or slapping themselves silly, I wish that a character decided to watch happy movies to get rid of his bad thoughts, hoping that if negative feelings are out of his system, he wouldn’t have nightmares. I’m sure we all know people who take that approach and it would have been nice if that movie acknowledged those people and scared them a bit (or even more). Another issue I had with the film was its use of laughably bad one-liners especially from Freddy. Without the silly lines, I think I would have taken him more seriously. I’m aware that this version wants to pay some sort of homage to its predecessors but the movie could have done it by simply taking all the positive things from them and taking it to the next level. They should have left the bad qualities out the door. Maybe the silly one-liners worked back then because there were a plethora of horror movies coming out at the time but they just don’t work nowadays because we are currently experiencing a drought of exemplary horror pictures. Nevertheless, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” directed by Samuel Bayer, managed to hit some high points especially with its creative ways of killing. I was very happy with the body bag scene (my favorite scene in the original–every time I think about it, I get goosebumps) but it could have been scarier without the corny lines.

Fear(s) of the Dark


Fear(s) of the Dark (2007)
★ / ★★★★

“Peur(s) du noir” or “Fear(s) of the Dark” documents the graphic artists/directors’ (Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard McGuire) worst nightmares via an animated medium. I expected this little film with a fascinating premise to be scary but it ended up being a disappointment. I could withstand the first two stories but as it went on, it became very confusing, especially with the intermissions regarding the man with the dogs that attacked random people. Supposedly, there was a connection among the disparate storylines but other than the whole nightmare theme and black-and-white composition, I didn’t find anything about it worth pondering over. If these were the directors’ worth nightmares, they should consider themselves lucky because I’ve had much scarier dreams. What I did like about it, however, was the soundtrack. Whenever the music was turned on, since I wasn’t that much interested in the story, I noticed it and it elevated the creepiness factor. Another reason why I was disappointed was because I expected it to be more accessible. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a niche film, in fact, most of my favorite films belong in that category. However, it didn’t quite work for me because I felt as though it held back a lot. I think it relied too much on the subtleties. When it comes to horror films, the kind of horror that impresses me the most are the ones that have the ability to balance the obvious and the subtle. This one being an extreme, it repulsed me as much as a film that might rely, say, on the obvious. Since I didn’t feel like it pushed itself, I felt even more disappointed because I felt like the whole experience was a waste of time as the credits started rolling. While this animated feature had a lot of nice ideas and the images are stylized, I’d honestly rather go to a museum to see and touch weird-looking objects. This was really painful for me to watch and I found myself constantly checking how many minutes I had left. To me, that is one of the ultimate signs of a bad movie. But if the premise sounds interesting to you because you haven’t heard of an animated collection of horror shorts, then I say take the risk and watch it. You might end up liking it more than I did.