Tag: simon barrett

24 Exposures

24 Exposures (2013)
★ / ★★★★

There is a way to make every day lives interesting, but writer-director Joe Swanberg has not found a way to capture cinematic qualities in seemingly small moments—which is why “24 Exposures” is ultimately a waste of time and film. Just about everything about the picture is intolerable, from the lack of a compelling script to the way certain scenes—which are supposed to make us care about the murder mystery—are shot.

The plot involves a dead woman, a detective (Simon Barrett), and a photographer (Adam Wingard) who just so happens to be the main suspect. But the plot is irrelevant because the screenplay finds one excuse too many to avoid dealing with it head-on. Instead, we get numerous and increasingly tired scenes where women’s bodies are objectified whether it be by way of being topless or a woman kissing another woman. We are even forced to sit through a warmup for a threesome. These are moments when the camera is most still and focused.

One might claim that the film is about modern voyeurism and how it desensitizes. After all, the main character, Billy, is used to observing the world through the lens of his camera, the subjects almost always being women who wish to start a career in the entertainment industry. The subjects regard him as someone who can potentially ignite their careers while he sees them as mere objects. And when the camera is not in his hands, he views the world through his spectacles—every image is, in a way, filtered.

But to make such a claim gives the work undue credit. While elements that can make such a commentary valid are present, there is a lack of well-defined connective tissues to give the claim weight. So, in the end, one gets the impression that the writer-director has no idea what he wishes to communicate, that he is too lazy to actually try and make his work cohesive.

The film has neither dramatic core nor a convincing tension. At first, it appears as though we are supposed to care about Billy, his girlfriend, and their open relationship, but it fails to evolve into anything other than two people sharing the same room and sleeping together once a while. Then the whole subplot of the detective trying to be friends with Billy is introduced and so the murder mystery is swept under the rug completely. Swanberg forgets to convince the audience why we should care about the story and the characters in it.

“24 Exposures” is one exposure too many. With a running time of under eighty minutes, it feels so much longer because so-called scenes are placed in front of us and barely anything of consequence happens. The movie is not for everyone, not even patient viewers. Maybe it’s for audiences who are braindead but to even make such a claim is cruel—because the movie is not for anybody other than for Swanberg’s masturbation of his ego.


Contracted (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

“Contracted,” written and directed by Eric England, is an effective body horror film for about half of its running time. The movie is strongest when it is patient and the camera simply rests on the protagonist’s increasingly diseased body. However, the second half, particularly the third act, is so atrocious, plagued by many unbelievable reactions from the lead character’s friends and loved ones, that we end up laughing at the material rather than continuing to be horrified and fascinated by it.

Samantha (Najarra Townsend) attends a friend’s party with the hope of meeting up with her girlfriend (Katie Stegeman). While she waits, the hostess (Alice Macdonald) insists that Sam takes a shot—or five—so she can let loose and have fun, perhaps even forget about her girlfriend problems for one night. However, when her friends aren’t looking, Sam is approached by a man named BJ (Simon Barrett), hands her a red cup and insists that it is her drink. Unbeknownst to the inebriated woman, the drink contains a date rape drug and in just a few minutes the two will have unprotected sex in his car. BJ, in the first scene, was shown having sex with a corpse with a biohazard tag around its toes.

The increasingly bizarre symptoms, despite the gross-out factor, are highly watchable. Title cards denoting the number of days since Sam’s sexual assault have an eeriness to them, giving the impression that it is some sort of countdown to something big. The first symptom is as simple as the heroine feeling cold all the time, but later stages involve rashes, scabs, uncontrolled bleeding.

Despite the fact that Sam is not a well-established character prior to her bizarre affliction, it is near impossible not to sympathize with her. The camera has a habit of staying back and merely observing while the score is kept at a bare minimum. As a result, we grow sensitive to her cries, disbelief, and even disgust of herself. Credit to the makeup artists and special effects team for making the character look horrifying and disfigured without going overboard. If only the writing were as sharp.

Particularly troublesome is the manner in which the people around Sam react to her condition. The script forces supporting characters to ignore or downplay the obvious signs that something is seriously wrong with the protagonist. Ask yourself: If you see a person, especially someone you care about, whose face is pretty much falling off, wouldn’t you insist that he or she go to the emergency room as soon as possible, if not actually offer to drive that person to the hospital? Here, time and again we hear comments like, “You don’t look very good” or “Are you feeling okay?” to the point of overwhelming frustration.

The film is completely derailed during the final fifteen minutes. One gets the impression that the writer-director does not know how to end his project and so he relies on violence to satisfy the viewers. A more appropriate ending is a chillier tone, a scientific explanation (or something that sounds remotely scientific) followed by more involving questions that would warrant a sequel.

The Guest

The Guest (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

For a while “The Guest,” written by Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, is quite a solid throwback to thrillers from the ‘80s, but it ends up becoming a letdown because it fails to establish a protagonist the audience can root for. While it is enjoyable that the villain is written in such a way that we almost want him to get away with all of the things he did, at the same time we know that he must be punished for them. For the film to have been a fully effective throwback, however, polarity ought to have been established. In ‘80s thrillers, there is almost always a defined good versus evil.

The Peterson family has recently lost their son and brother in the war. So when a man named David (Dan Stevens) knocks on their door and introduces himself as one of Caleb’s close friends in the army, the Petersons welcome David into their home to stay for a couple of days until he figures out what to do next. Anna (Maika Monroe), the middle child, feels there is something not quite right about the guy so she decides to ask questions, starting with a call to the military.

Stevens plays David with such charisma that it is near impossible not to want to like him. The performance is comparable to what Ryan Gosling might do: approach a potentially morally corrupt character and try as hard as possible to hide that evil within. The key word is “try” because once in a while he lets out a certain look or stands in such a way that there is no shadow of a doubt that the person in front of us is not right in the head. It is a smart performance by Stevens; he hits all the right notes.

The weakness is in the character development of the two remaining siblings, Anna and Luke (Brendan Meyer), the duo that we are supposed to root for to survive the ordeal. While we are given a skeletal idea of who they are and what they deal with on a daily basis, they do not go through a significant change divorced from David’s direct influence. Thus, David has the active role while Anna and Luke merely respond. It might have been more engaging if the formula were changed once in a while.

The picture is at its lowest when the military gets involved. Great tension is gathered at times when there is only the family and the stranger living under the same roof. We grow curious as to how they can possibly outsmart or overpower David. There is suspense. However, when the guns come out and bullets come flying, it becomes a standard, unimpressive action film. It is a good decision, however, to have the final confrontation somewhere that is isolated with a synth pop soundtrack that injects excitement and poetry to the violent turn of events.

“The Guest” takes a number of risks. While some of them do not pay off, especially the scenes with the parents (Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser), a few high points are memorable. The scene at the bar with the high school bullies and Anna’s terrible timing of letting her secret out quickly come to mind. Certainly the picture entertains and has some style. However, one gets the impression that the writing is unfocused not only with respect to providing well-defined protagonists worth rooting for but also in the mishmash of genres prevalent in the second half.

A Horrible Way to Die

A Horrible Way to Die (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Sarah (Amy Seimetz) recently joined Alcoholics Anonymous. On her first day, which happens to be the third month of her sobriety, she meets Kevin (Joe Swanberg). He claims he wants to get to know her outside of AA. She admires his honesty and figures she can use a little bit of that positive quality in her life. The two go on a date and everything goes swimmingly. Meanwhile, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen), escapes from prison. We learned that when he was still with Sarah, whenever they weren’t together, he killed to feed his addiction for flesh. His motivation to get out of prison, it seems, is to see his ex-girlfriend and claim her as his most priced victim.

Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, “A Horrible Way to Die” has some good ideas and rather solid twists before the closing chapter, but the muddled cinematography takes away the little power that the picture has going for it.

We spend a lot of personal time observing Sarah and Kevin. We watch them meet, exchange smiles out of politeness which soon changed into something genuine, go on their first date, and the first time they have sex. But the camera shakes so relentlessly and dizzyingly for no good reason whatsoever. It feels like we are watching a first take as the cameramen and director attempt to adjust the lighting and make sure that the microphones are in their proper places. By moving the camera in such a way, the connection between the characters and audiences are disrupted. Instead of engaging us in a flow, it becomes a difficult and frustrating watch. Because of its presentation, the material appears unprofessional.

Sarah has a lot of self-esteem issues which is rooted in her struggle against alcohol addiction and is perpetuated by news that her serial killer ex-boyfriend is on the loose. The camera should have been still so that we are allowed to look her in the eyes and infer some of the questions that might pop into her head. This is her journey and I wasn’t convinced that the filmmakers were aware of that. If they did, the least they could have done is to get the technical issues right so the audience can focus on the story.

The writing needs revision because it fails to incorporate two of Sarah’s monsters: the alcoholism and the ex-boyfriend. Although flashbacks are provided so that we can get a sense of our protagonist’s history, there is no effort from behind the camera to put them together in way that makes sense. Obviously, drugs can be a source of addiction but what are the similarities between a drug and a bad relationship? Instead of exploring this question, the filmmakers hands us random scenes like Sarah thinking about Garrick when she touches herself at night. What does that have to do with anything?

“A Horrible Way to Die” lacks a bridge between drama and horror/thriller so the emotions on screen feel like a sham. The whole charade would have been laughable, not just maddening, if it wasn’t such a frustrating chore to sit through.