★★★ / ★★★★
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was on a train from New York to Philadelphia that suddenly derailed. Everyone on the train passed away except for him; in fact, he walked away from the wreckage without a scratch. This strange phenomenon caught the eye of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man born with osteogenesis imperfecta–since his body lacked an essential protein, his bones were very low in density and therefore easy broken. Elijah had a passion for comic books and he was convinced that David was a superhero in the making. Was Elijah a madman who became embittered from his experiences as a child or was he a friend that could help David realize his true potential? M. Night Shyamalan did a fantastic job blurring the line between science fiction and realism by establishing a heavy but malleable solemn mood. I thought it was great in building the tension as we were given information that could lead to the conclusion that David might be special. The film could simply have been about a man coming to terms with his “gift” (if he did indeed has one) but it took the more introspective path and it became a story about a family trying to stay together. David and his wife (Robin Wright) were on the verge of divorce due to reasons undisclosed and his son (Spencer Treat Clark) became fixated with the idea that his dad was special in order to deal with the fear of his father being plucked away from his life. Shyamalan’s talent in telling a compelling story was always at the forefront. Even though I did not know the truth about David’s identity, I cared about him because I was as confused as he was. “Unbreakable” was highly successful in building an inordinary experience from ordinary elements. I loved the way the director gave us information that was open to interpretation but not so abstract that it became frustrating or even insular. I also enjoyed the awkward camera angles because it challenged our perspectives visually and intellectually. And in a way, the film was also about perspectives: do we believe that David is a superhero or just a man trying to get by? It was strangely moving and I thought it ended at just about the perfect moment. Most people have lost faith in Shyamalan’s talent in creating stories that are involving, honest, and creative but at the same time defying our greatest expectations. I’m not one of them because when I rewatch his films like “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” (or even “The Village” to some degree) I cannot help but notice the level of detail he puts into his work. What I think he needs is to step back, look at what made the aforementioned pictures work and tell a story he would love instead of what he thinks the public would love.
Don’t Look Up (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I can withstand a lot of bad movies but the really memorable ones are the movies that make me angry during and after I watch them. “Don’t Look Up,” directed by Fruit Chan, is a prime example. Marcus (Reshad Strik) was an aspiring filmmaker with psychic abilities. When he visited places with bad histories, which often involved a grizzly murder, he would receive visions and he would incorporate what he saw onto his script. While shooting a movie in Transylvania, his crew discovered an old footage of a prior film shot in their set. Soon “accidents” started to happen which led to a series of deaths until the film crew finally called it quits and left Marcus to deal with his demons. Everything about this picture was exaggerated. The acting was shockingly bad, the gore was gratuitous and unconvincing and the CGI was completely unnecessary. It was so bad, the movie tried to scare us with CGI flies. The last time I checked, CGI flies are not scary. It might have worked in Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” because that particular film had a nice balance of cheekiness and horror but “Don’t Look Up” desperately wanted to be taken seriously. Its desperate attempt to be liked left a bitter taste in my mouth. I did not appreciate its references to movies like the Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on” and Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu;” instead of paying homage, I felt like the movie was parasite and was an extremely unsatisfactory leftover. The horror did not work because it acted like it was above trying to tell a story that was interesting, involving and, most importantly, a story that made sense. I didn’t understand the connection between Marcus and his ill ex-girlfriend other than to serve as a stupid twist in the end (something along the lines of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” only lightyears less elegant). Eli Roth playing a director in the 1920s left me scratching my head. And there was no explanation why the girl was murdered back in the day and what the apparitions wanted to accomplish. A “seed” was involved which I thought was metaphorical at first but it turned out to be literal. It was just a mess and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to burn the DVD so the next person interested in watching it can use his or her precious time doing something else (perhaps read a book or volunteer at a homeless shelter). “Don’t Look Up” is a smogasboard of everything bad about modern independent horror movies that heavily rely on special and visual effects. I just don’t believe anyone in the world can actually enjoy it. I am at a loss with why it was released in the first place but I suppose connections can go pretty far. If I can prevent at least one person from watching this, I consider it a triumph.
The Others (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Some people unjustly claim that this was a rip-off from “The Sixth Sense” (because both movies have ghosts in them and have a twist ending) but I am more than willing to argue that this is a movie of its own. Nicole Kidman perfectly embodies a cold-mannered mother who, despite of her intimidating aura, loves her children very much. I love the fact that we get to know her in a matter of seconds: she has no room for excuses, is devoutly religious, and likes structure. Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, right from the beginning we know that there’s something wrong with the characters, the place where they live, the fog that surrounds the mansion, and the broken memories of the children. However, we cannot quite put our finger with what exactly is wrong so figuring it out is half of the fun that this film had to offer. On our way to discover the big mystery, “The Others” is able to deliver genuine scares because we do not know what exactly is going on, aided by the fact that each corner of the room is covered in darkness (the children have a condition which involves their skin being sensitive to light so their mother is obsessed with locking every door and keeping the curtains closed). This movie proves that a horror story does not need special effects in order to generate thrill and tension. What it needs is a creepy atmosphere, unsettling setting, and a spice of great acting. Although pretty much everyone knows its ending by now (it’s quite unforgettable), it is still interesting to see the characters’ journey to enlightenment (and ours), how it elevates the tension, and how it reaches the conclusion. The filmmakers do not cheat its audience unlike many “horror” films out there that pull of a twist for the sake of “shock” value. This is the kind of movie that I do not mind watching again once in a while because it is so professionally done so I can’t help but appreciate its craft. And quite frankly, the more I watch it, the more I love and respect it because while it is a solid horror film, its religious implications took it to the next level. If one is to look closely, the movie is not anti-Christian, it’s pro-thinking.
★★★★ / ★★★★
I had my reservations prior to watching this film but after I saw it, I could finally understand why “Poltergeist” is considered as a horror classic. What I love about this picture is that it’s an unconventional horror movie. It focuses on the family and makes the “scary stuff” secondary or even tertiary. Credit definitely goes to Steven Spielberg (even though it’s directed by Tobe Hooper who also directed the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). Being a big Spielberg fan, I immediately noticed his signature style of storytelling: the timeless feel of feeling like a kid again, problems with at least one parental figure (obvious or otherwise), excellent pacing, and a generous offering of eye-opening visual and special effects–all of which never outshine the film’s emotional core. I must commend JoBeth Williams for playing the mother of the house. I found her to be really touching during those scenes when she would engage with the parapsychologists (Zelda Rubinstein and Beatrice Straight). Even though all types of paranormal phenomena are happening around them, Williams’ yearning for her missing child (Heather O’Rourke) resembles a mother’s yearning for her child who recently died. Not only are those scenes moving, they are integral to the story’s overall feel. The film is smart enough to establish the family first before truly getting into the paranormal, but at the same time it didn’t take a long time to get there. Once the horror started, it never lets go: the scenes are in the least creepy and truly memorable in its most daunting. I also noticed how “The Others” and “The Sixth Sense” took some of the big ideas from here and made them their own. Even though some people would say that the special and visual effects are outdated, I think most still hold up to this day. As for those that are undeniably dated, their powers lie in the concepts (for instance, an invisible demon dragging a person to and across the ceiling) and they leave so much for the imagination. “Poltergeist” will scare people who believe in ghosts, especially haunted homes. My culture believes in the existence of ghosts (even though I personally don’t–but I do believe in the possible existence of an afterlife) so this film gave me some serious goosebumps.