28 July 2012

The Descent (2005)

This movie was highly educational for me: I learned that in order for a film to be truly terrifying, I must identify with at least some of the behaviors/actions of the characters. With these requirements in mind, The Descent was not a scary film at all.

Why spelunking appeals to so many people is as deep a mystery to me as why mosquitos or flying cockroaches exist. And if someone says "well there is a thrill to it," I say: If I want to feel the thrill of taking my life in my hands and exploring my boundaries, I can wear an oversized coat, large fake gold earrings, and a giant handbag to Macy's on 34th street! But I digress. Suffice to say, I cannot be terrified of encountering creatures I would never meet since I'm not going to jump in a random hole out in the woods.

However, Claustrophobia and Gynephobia do figure into my psyche, and to that end the film is freakin' scary!

The Plot: A group of "friends" go out for a day of "bonding" while diving deep into an allegorical Vagina in the woods. Upon wriggling through the extremely narrow Birth Canal into the cavern's Womb, they find they cannot go back due to a vaginal-mesh, I mean, due to a cave-in. Upon going forward seeking egress, they encounter giant allegorical Semen that pick them off and consume the women one by one - so with full bellies, the Semen can stay alive and reproduce more little monster Semen.
There's even a giant bloody pool that one chick must hide in temporarily from the semen - thank god she's on the rag or she might have little monster babies! And once she rises from the maxi pad, I mean, the pool, all red and slimy, we know she's bad ass and not to be messed with! This chick is bloody angry.

Less Judgmentally: Upon descending into a cavern on a spelunking trip, a group of female friends cause a cave-in and cannot exit the way they entered. Pushing onward, they discover a race of carnivorous, melanin-challenged "humans" living deep in the earth who are blind, but have heightened smell and hearing, which helps them track down and kill the women one by one.

ARRGHH, WARNING: There be Spoilers Ahead!!

The film's adventure is a trip of redemption for Sarah (Shauna McDonald) whose child has recently died, but features the usual cast of female characters: the ambitious, type-A leader Juno (Natalie Mendoza), who's aggressive nature feels at once catty, needy, and dismissive; the granola girl, the peace-maker, etc, etc. The important thing to note is that driven leader Juno has also had an affair with the husband of clearly telegraphed "Final Girl" Sarah!! No one really discusses the affair outright, in the way that women passive-agressively remain "friends" after doing truly horrid things to each other, but it becomes a key issue towards the end of the movie in what I DID find a really scary scene.

The others have all gone the way of tv dinners, and of course our Final Girl is still around, but the other lingering survivor is Juno. Juno is physically fit, athletic, resourceful, quick on her feet, and capable at defense. When these two are in the midst of successfully battling the monsters, Sarah suddenly takes one of those climbing/spelunking axe-type things and plunges it into the back of Juno's calf! This move of course cripples her, and leaves her as food for the nasty, toothy critters. Yes, sleeping with someone's husband is a terrible thing to do, but a crime punishable by Death?! Really?!!

I found this the most scary not because it seemed impossible for a woman to do this, but because it seems very possible! I also found this most scary not because I have ever slept with a friend's husband (or ever could/would), and not because I believe what Juno did was not terrible, but because of the comments the film seems to be making about women's friendships, behaviors, attitudes, and predispositions in general! Women are so vicious, illogical, and emotionally unstable that they would doom their own lives by taking out another compadre in the fight against vicious, carnivorous beasts deep in a cave in the earth?? Ok. So this is why I have so few female friends!

If one were to psychologically, allegorically consider the film, then we have moved from female sexuality being merely scary on its own, over to any sort of strong female, or female bonding, or female attempt to venture beyond the domestic sphere as being so terrifying it is something to avoid at all costs.

Now, of course I know that the basis of horror is often facing evil in unexpected places, whether the cabin in the woods, the ship at sea, the foreign country, etc. However, for a group of women to delve into a giant "womb" and upon "gestation," each find certain death due to either their inability or unwillingness to help each other survive, well that feels unnecessary. And running from slimy, white men who seek to rip you open and consume you is pretty close to a cautionary tale against pregnancy if I ever saw one.

And these points don't even touch on the fact that Juno, the husband stealing uber-Bitch, is played by hot, ethnically, racially mysterious, but obviously Other/Of Color actress Mendoza! All the other chicks are Caucasian. Sigh.

That said, I know there are plenty of folks who did find this film great and terrifying on the merits of the basic story and the portrayal of claustrophobic monster-battle alone. All I know is that after Sarah's idiotic, homicidal act I was very happy to be watching the British version (or "unrated" version) the first time I saw this film!

Genre: A-
Epidermal/Ethnic Variance: B- (always the hot, horny minority chick taking white girl's men)
Visuals/Audio: B-
Gender Rep: A- (its an all female review, but sole dude mentioned cheated on wife with her best friend)
Narrative: C

Overall Gut: B- / C

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

Warning: This is not the film for you if the thought of an eyeball's CGI trajectory from socket toward camera is beyond the tolerance level for your stomach to handle. However, if you can tolerate this and other rather gory images, and get beyond them to see the (dare I say it?) beautifully textured visual landscape director Ryƻhei Kitamura has created, then you are in for a real treat.

The film's deeply disturbing, horrifying premise is a somewhat typical descent into an atypical hell for the unwary White male who lets his curiosity and desire for fame carry him away. Vegan photographer Leon (the ever intense, engaging, and slightly menacing Bradley Cooper) is set on capturing more gritty images of the city in order to gain a coveted showing in the elite gallery of Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), herself a slightly creepy chick. To this end, he spends more late-night hours hanging out in the film's anonymous mega-metropolis subway system than anyone would find smart. This angers and causes problems in his relationship with Maya (an effective Leslie Bibb) who is  oddly and annoyingly unwilling to believe anything he says, even when it involves ongoing serial killing. 

On one photographic evening foray, he witnesses and photographs a man (Vinnie Jones) who we learn is a maniac of particular viciousness and brutality, who turns the train's passengers/victims into cleanly shorn swinging buffets for some unknown reason. One can imagine the negatives of following and photographing a serial killer. 

Ultimately if the film suffers from anything its too little attention. The color palate and photographic angles alone merit at least one viewing. Stark, hospital grade stainless steel subway seats and simple opening and closing doors mark a descent into evil and act as a cautionary tale for those unobservant on their late night commute. No one will win any oscars for acting, but set design alone deserves a nod, forget about the filming of a fight scene where the camera goes in and out of the subway car as it rockets along, giving the viewer impossible to see but thrilling perspective.

Other reviewers have claimed the final third of the film, where the reasons for both the murders and Leon's behavior feel ridiculous, but no more so than any other horror film. I felt that Leon's behavior suddenly felt less nutty by the end, and the horror of why the killer was butchering people felt better than other serial killer's reasons. As a city dweller, and frequent late-night party girl, I was frequently frightened by the notion of being killed on the way home, and yet challenged to consider the fact that the system too often doesn't believe the most extreme stories until too late.

Genre: A truly terrifying
Epidermal/Ethnic Variance: D albeit with a quite small cast, so....
Visuals/Audio: B+
Gender Rep: B+
Narrative: C

Overall Gut: B-