Surely I don’t need to justify the lack of new Snooty Film Critiques this year – 2020 to date has been more turbulent and less predictable than a season of Game of Thrones (that’s pre-Season 6 Game of Thrones, mind… before the dark times… before the plot armor and anachronistic Starbucks cups). Seriously, if everything headlining CNN these days played out on HBO, critics would dismiss the narrative twists and turns as unrealistic to the point of absurdity – the initial arc centering on the Coronavirus pandemic was sidelined by the sadistic murder of George Floyd and the descent of major US cities into anarchy; the threat of the killer hornets was introduced as a potentially major plot point in episode 3 and then swiftly abandoned (though it may yet be revisited in the inevitable Christmas Special); and now Kanye West has announced his bid for the presidency, because ratings have dipped and the desperate writers needed a flashy guest star to bolster their viewership.
2019 is certainly proving to be the year for emerging Indie horror directors’ follow-up films, isn’t it? Jordan Peele followed up his universally-acclaimed quasi-horror-comedy Get Out with the much more sci-fi-leaning Twilight Zone tribute Us (which I adored); David Robert Mitchell followed up his eerie sex-themed after-school-special It Follows with the polarizing neo-noir Under the Silver Lake (which curiously went to Cannes unedited); and Ari Aster followed up his demonic family portrait Hereditary with the psychedelic, bloodletting Eurotrip Midsommar (which should never under any circumstances be viewed with grandma). Now, Robert Eggers has followed up his highly-effective period horror The Witch with a fresh article-noun arrangement called The Lighthouse, a psychological horror that is already being hailed as a masterpiece by those who have acknowledged its existence.
Alas, the proprietor of my hometown’s Theatrical Symposium for Degenerate Fancies was not one such person, having deemed the Zombieland sequel that no one asked for the preferable feature to screen. Incidentally, our Symposium bears many striking similarities to Eggers’ nightmarish lighthouse – it’s filthy, it’s drafty, it’s beset by cantankerous seagulls, and its employees are presumably forbidden access to the proprietor’s inner sanctum that is the projection room under pain of an axe murdering.
I’ll keep this short and sweet… is not something anybody involved in the production of this seventeen-hour-long saunter down memory lane said at any point on set, even in jest.
After part one of the long-gestating film adaptation of Stephen King’s It took the world by storm back in 2017, I confidently predicted in my annual Top Ten that the inevitable second chapter chronicling the grown-up Losers Club’s final confrontation with Pennywise the Clown had nowhere to go but down the proverbial drain. This forecast was founded on the notoriously poor quality of the hammy 1990 television duology’s second half, the fact that the adults comprise the least interesting portions of the predominantly kid-focused novel, and the assumption that older incarnations of lovable child characters would be simultaneously cringy and dull to witness (just look at Stranger Things Season 3). These rock-bottom expectations enabled me to enter the theater with the open-mindedness necessary to assess Chapter Two objectively, and my conclusion is this – while miles better than what I had been anticipating, It Chapter Two is still a long, tedious, repetitive, and stale attempt at horror that is salvaged only by its unexpected humour and admittedly spot-on cast.
“Do you like playing games?” asks patriarchal board game magnate Tony Le Domas to his new daughter-in-law Grace in the stately family music room following the ceremony. “It depends on the game,” the bewildered bride replies, still begowned in her wedding dress and eager to ingratiate herself to her strange new in-laws, who are the sort of hyper-aristocratic, tradition-obsessed, monied WASPs who make a point to advise outsiders that they prefer the term ‘dominion’ over ‘dynasty.’ The game in question, it turns out, is determined by a mysterious puzzle box that was presented to family founder Victor Le Domas during the Civil War by an enigmatic benefactor named Justin Le Bail, who is casually implied to be Satan. Anyone marrying into House Le Domas must, by order of tradition, participate in the game chosen by the box, which might be as innocuous as checkers, as archaic as old maid, or as deadly as hide-and-seek. Grace, who was unaware of this little household custom before her nuptials, regrettably draws hide-and-seek.
When I first heard that Quentin Tarantino’s ninth motion picture would take place in Hollywood during the late 1960’s and feature characters with names like Roman Polanski and Charles Manson, I admittedly had some misgivings. Setting aside my love for Tarantino’s filmography as well as my undying zeal for gratuitous violence, I just wasn’t sure I was ready to watch Sharon Tate get murdered by a cult of psychotic, LSD-addled hippies. Even if I were up for that from a purely biographical standpoint, I had doubts that Tarantino would approach such a tragedy with restraint or decorum, given that his prop sheet to date has been topped by the line item ‘Literally all the fake blood and maybe some real blood too if you happen to have some on hand.’
As it turns out, I should have given dear ol’ Tarantino the benefit of the doubt. This is, after all, the man who rewrote World War II so that Hitler got gunned down by Tommy Gun-toting Jews in a French theater in 1944.
It’s a sad indictment of the collective temperament of the human race that those in the public eye are often remembered best not for their triumphs and achievements, but for their blunders and missteps. Where directors and writers are concerned, oftentimes the most calamitous of these blunders and missteps have directly followed the greatest of their triumphs or achievements. Michael Cimino won Best Director in 1979 for The Deer Hunter, which he immediately followed up with 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, a disasterpiece that by all accounts ruined the industry for everybody. Kevin Smith defined slacker culture with Clerks in 1994, which he has since been following up with everything else in the View Askewniverse, which is apparently a thing that people take seriously. Robert David Mitchell was lauded in 2015 for his Indie horror flick slash cautionary tale about sexually transmitted diseases It Follows, and has now followed it up with Under the Silver Lake, a movie that admittedly might have been good had a modicum of restraint been exercised at any point in the editing process.
It seems that everyone is obsessed with Don Quixote these days – Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver, Alonso Quixano… everyone except the general public.
For you readers whose literary interests stopped developing with Green Eggs and Ham, Don Quixote is a Spanish novel from the 1600s by someone named Miguel de Cervantes. Is it approximately 9,000 pages long and is about a delusional old man who, having come to believe that he is a chivalrous knight of antiquity, embarks on numerous romantic sallies to right wrongs and rescue pretty damsels from conspicuously windmill-shaped giants. The humour of the novel (which I admittedly got fifty pages into, felt I had the gist of it, and stopped reading) stems from the aging Alonso Quixano’s false perceptions of the world around him and his obliviousness to that fact that everyone is actually laughing at his genuine but blundering attempts at heroism.
2018 started with such promise, but much like that one Thanksgiving where I attempted to make beef wellington for my loved ones, it ended with decimated expectations, disillusionment in the promise of good things, and a round of pumped stomachs. Though a few worthwhile releases certainly caught me by surprise, by and large this was a tedious and mediocre year marked by bitter disappointments, even where my beloved Indie market was concerned. Many of the films I had high hopes for fell flatter than grandma after that aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner, while other movies I had no expectations for whatsoever taught me to never again ask “How bad could it possibly be?” unless I’m planning on French kissing a pencil sharpener.
Today we’re going to deviate from my usual analyses of Plot and Character and delve into something I seldom have interest in discussing – theme. Thematic analysis has its place, of course – mostly in the hands of arthouse critics who relish the death of the author or sociology students who labour under the delusion that 2006’s Crash was somehow good – but for myself I’m generally less concerned with the question “What does it mean?” and more interested in the questions “Does it work?” and “Why or why not?”
Then I saw Ingrid Goes West. Obviously too late to include it in my 2017 Top Ten, which is a damn shame because if I had even known this film existed when assembling that list it would have bumped Thor: Ragnorok down into the dishonorable mentions and nestled itself somewhere around sixth place. Beyond merely being a great film and an effective Character tale, Ingrid Goes West deserves attention for having something important to say – something an entire generation of phone-slinging, social media-inundated hashtaggers desperately need to hear.