Tag: vincenzo natali

Splice


Splice (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Most disappointing is the fact that Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice” really could have been about something. A few examples: the ethical and moral quandaries in regards to genetic engineering, the role of nature versus nurture in a controlled setting, what it means to be a biological versus adoptive parents, the clash when it comes to being a researcher holding a specific set of noble ideals while working for a corporation designed to rake in profits. Instead, the picture, by the third act, is reduced to a monster-of-the-week episode where our protagonists end up running in the woods and fighting for their lives. What a boring and tedious way to close a movie with potential.

It starts off with strong footing. Right away we have an appreciation of what biochemists Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) hope to achieve: create a specimen made up of various animal DNA so that specific proteins from this organism can be extracted and be made into commercial drugs for livestocks. Brody and Polley being performers who excel at communicating plenty using only their eyes, we look at their characters and feel a strong drive to succeed, to push science to the precipice for the betterment of mankind. They don’t care much for money or fame or special treatment; priority is in making discoveries. These are curious characters—the desire to know being a strength and a weakness.

I enjoyed the look of the interiors, particularly of the state-of-the-art laboratories. Usually labs are shown as neat, tidy, spacious. Bright fluorescent lights erase all shadows. Here, spaces can be quite tight. Colleagues are within five feet of one another, people can wear a t-shirt to work, music can be blasted on the radio. Boxes tend to pile on top of another. There is a rush to get things done. There are some manual labor involved. As a person who works in a lab, I appreciated some level of realism; I caught myself smiling at times.

Even the creatures look terrific. The dog-sized, wormlike organisms are… cute in their own way even though they look slimy and gross. The way they move and the sounds they make command attention. We learn about how they are made and why; we observe some behavior and what males and females do when they meet for the first time.

More impressive is Dren (Delphine Chanéac)—a special case because not only is her DNA composed of various animals, she is also given human DNA. It is near impossible to look away, especially when Dren takes on a humanoid form. We gawk at her eyes and how far apart they are, her bald head and tail, her skin and how it resembles a mole rat, her bony legs. Clearly, a lot of thought and effort are put into how things should look.

But then there is the content of the picture. It doesn’t drill deeply enough. For instance, it touches upon the idea of Elsa being a mother figure but halfway through the picture, this curiosity is abandoned—then picked up again—whenever convenient. Then it jumps to Clive, once a figure to be feared by Dren because he believes that such an abomination should not have been created, becoming the synthetic creature’s object of desire. The screenplay by Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor presents an idea but doesn’t answer the question, “So what?” Consistently failing to take a concept to the next level breeds frustration because the plot is reduced to a series of events without rewarding payoffs.

“Splice” forgets what defines cautionary tales: the payoff. A movie that strives to make a statement can put all the pieces in the most precise positions for the sake of creating the greatest impact… but without the spark that tips the tile, the all-important payoff, the most elegant configurations are all for nothing. It cannot be denied that the movie’s third act is in desperate need of rewrite.

In the Tall Grass


In the Tall Grass (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Cal, where are you? …Becky?! …CAL?? …I’M HERE, BECKY! …WHERE ARE YOU??? …OVER HERE! …WHERE??? If watching and listening to people get lost in a field for over half the film is your idea of entertainment, then “In the Tall Grass,” based on the novella by Stephen King and written for the screen by Vincenzo Natali (who also directs), receives a most enthusiastic recommendation. But should you demand more from a horror film with a curious concept surrounding a piece of land with supernatural powers then stay far away. Spearheaded by an undercooked and misguided screenplay, there is no reason for this movie to be over thirty minutes, let alone a hundred minutes. It is an experience to be endured.

The best horror stories that just so happen to possess science fiction elements tend to have one thing in common: the rules are so watertight that although we are aware of them, we are entertained when they are broken or if they happen to come with crucial footnotes. By providing the audience a set of rules, there is an unwritten contract between the film and the audience. We are tasked to participate. We know, or think we know, what we are in for and so there is a higher chance for us to believe in the universe the filmmakers put forth.

This soulless, brainless, lazy film, on the other hand, is not concerned whether the audience has understanding of the rules. Its approach is to muddle the playing field so often and so brazenly that we find ourselves blindsided by the would-be brilliant twists. I found not one of them to be compelling; in fact, when examined using the picture’s own logic, these fail to make sense.

The opening scene shows siblings Becky (Laysla De Oliviera) and Cal (Avery Whitted) driving to San Diego. Becky is very pregnant and nauseous and so Cal pulls over next to a field facing a church. They hear a boy’s voice (Will Buie Jr.) from the tall grass, begging for help since he is unable to find the way toward the road. It sounds as if he’s been there for hours. Becky and Cal decide to lend a hand, but they, too, find themselves in the same predicament once they are among the grass. They get separated. It seems impossible for them to find one another because the source of their voices does not remain in one spot—even when they are standing still. They become convinced something is terribly wrong. Day turns into night and the supposedly horrific happenings continue. We grow tired of this formula even before the second act begins.

Eventually, we learn there is a mysterious stone in the middle of the field. A father (Patrick Wilson) who also got separated from his family claims that it is ancient, perhaps already there even before the earliest Ice Age. He has touched the stone and is stimulated every time he makes physical contact with it. There are carvings on the stone, but notice that the camera provides only a millisecond glimpse of them. You see, the images hint at what might happen later on should our subjects continue to make terrible mistakes regarding their situation. These carvings are only shown fully once the characters are at their lowest points. This choice, and others like it, stands out to me because it reeks of the filmmakers’ lack of confidence in the material. Or worse:

It is assumed that the audience are idiots, or that we have never seen a horror movie where curious figures actually prove to be important. The correct choice is to show the carvings front and center outright. Once we are equipped with this knowledge, tension is generated almost immediately because we wish for the characters to avoid what appears to be their fates. The lack of common sense from behind the camera is astounding. I found no willingness to embrace creativity from a storytelling point of view. In fact, the work feels like a bad TV movie.

But this isn’t to suggest the material is not without potential. There are hints surrounding the protective brother, Cal, possibly loving his sister, Becky, as more than a sister. It is not unimportant that the mysterious field just so happens to be situated in front of a church (according to the sign its entire name is “The Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer”). Those who get lured in the field, with the exception of the boy, possess qualities that could be considered sinful. However, not one of these ideas is explored in a meaningful way. The movie would rather show visual effects of grass moving on their own, the sky turning blood red, corpses in various states of decay—CGI of the poorest quality.

Haunter


Haunter (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Lisa (Abigail Breslin) and her family (Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, Peter DaCunha) are living in a loop: as each day wraps up, it begins on the day before Lisa’s sixteenth birthday. There are details that remain constant: laundry having to be done, the telephone being unavailable, and father fixing the car for the next day’s celebration. Lisa has somehow become aware that she and her family are dead. When the Pale Man (Stephen McHattie) learns of Lisa’s knowledge, he pays the family a visit.

“Haunter” is a most uninspired supernatural horror picture. Its premise is directly taken from movies like Alejandro Amenábar’s “The Others” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” so one would think that maybe it would strive to go beyond the fences of its concept. After all, if it did not, why make the film at all?

Its attempts to scare lack sense. We learn very early on that Lisa and her family are deceased and yet there are about half a dozen scenes where the protagonist is supposedly scared of some malevolent presence. She goes to investigate a strange noise. She breathes heavily. More strange sounds. More heavy breathing. I stayed in my seat in complete astonishment. Was screenwriter Brian King really convinced that what was on paper was actually scary? Lisa is the ghost! Is it supposed to be ironic?

The character is not written very smart. Lisa lives—or lived—in the mid-‘80s, not the Middle Ages. She appears to be in touch with pop culture given that her bedroom walls are covered with posters of musicians and movies. And yet we are supposed to believe that she does not know how to use a Ouija board properly? A whole lot of scary movies in the ‘70s and early ‘80s show characters communicating with the dead using the spirit board. Still, Lisa, who is supposed to be desperate to contact the other side (the living), fails to keep her fingers on the planchette. I wanted to scream at her.

The first half is a complete slog. Just because the day repeats with certain details having to be repetitive, there is no excuse for the material to be soaked in boredom. Lisa is bored—Breslin is good at rolling her eyes and portraying a hormonal, whiny teenager—and so we are bored, too. Our protagonist, the one who is supposed to be the anchor of whatever paranormal phenomena is occurring, fails to do anything interesting or come up with ideas that are truly out of the box, decisions designed to snag our attention.

The special and visual effects are showy and at times unnecessary but that is the least of the film’s problems. “Haunter,” directed by Vincenzo Natali, suffers from a lack of a workable screenplay. It underachieves instead of being willing and really pushing to be more than an experience to be forgotten right when the end credits appear. I am not convinced that anybody, especially the filmmakers who helmed this mess, can tell you with a straight face that is worth your time.

Cube


Cube (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

Leaven (Nicole de Boer), a math student, Rennes (Wayne Robson), an escape artist, Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), a doctor, Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), a cop, Worth (David Hewlett), an engineer, and Kazan (Andrew Miller), a mentally handicapped person, wake up in a gigantic cube with no apparent way out. They have no idea who took them and for what reason. The only thing that matters is they must find an escape route because the many rooms within the cube, some equipped with booby traps, have no food or water.

“Cube,” written by André Bijelic, Vincenzo Natali and Graeme Manson, grabbed by interest rather instantaneously because the characters are forced to solve a difficult puzzle while physically being in one. Sadly, it is inconsistent as a whole. Whether it be an actor losing control of her accent in certain scenes or a character experiencing a hundred eighty degree shift in personality or motivation from one minute to the next, it is all too noticeable and oftentimes distracting. With movies that demand its audiences to stay with a group of people in a confined space, it is critical that every detail feels just right. Only then do we really buy into the seeping paranoia and what really is at stake when failure is only inches away.

In some ways, the film is similar to bad horror movies where characters feel the need to argue a whole lot. They make a lot of commotion but for what? To lose energy, perspective and camaraderie. Because they argue so much, I eventually began to feel detached from their task. It is understandable that people start to become unhinged from lack of sleep and sufficient sustenance. Mixed with already normally volatile personalities, trouble is inevitable. It isn’t that their arguments are meaningless. They just feel so unnecessary, mechanical in its approach to buy off a couple of minutes until the next brilliant realization.

When they hit a dead end, the cycle continues. At its worst, one person just wants to kill everybody, which does not make sense because it is proven multiple times that the more people who are alive and well, the faster they tend to get through cryptic clues. Eventually, the freshness of the premise is turns into a case study of mediocrity.

The ending is a big disappointment because it circumvents in answering the necessary questions like who, specifically, is the mastermind of the torture chambers, its purpose (just because it needs to be used is not good enough–a lifeless reason for such an ambitious project), and what is on the outside of the cube.

In the end, I felt like the co-writer and director, Vincenzo Natali, did not know how to solve their own Rubik’s Cube. I admired that the filmmakers did not allow budget constraints to limit what they wanted to say about humanity, or lack thereof, when one finds himself struggling to survive. But the loose ends desperately need satisfying answers so the audiences do not feel cheated by the end of the ordeal.