Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix theater: The Strangers, Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, Heavenly Creatures

The Strangers (2009) - Surprisingly enough, it's legitimately frightening for the first 50 minutes. But after an hour or so of watching the doomed couple make one predictably boneheaded move after another, mucking up any chance of survival, you almost feel like the they deserve whatever knifing they are about to get. Whatever character-building subplot established in the beginning is also tossed out the window as soon the "mysterious" boogiemen/women start harassing the shampoo-commercial couple (Scott Speedman/Liv Tyler). I get that they were going for the minimalist thrills of old horror, but at a certain point all the well-executed dread and wide-angle shots in the world aren't going to keep me interested for over an hour in the same house with the same lame killers.

Another in the long line of "based on true events that no one knows anything about except a couple dead bodies and a bunch of blood-spray patterns," The Strangers tries so hard to keep the, um, strangers, mysterious, that by the end the vicious killers are just kind of boring. (It also attempts some sort of tossed-off, wannabe Funny Games statement by near end, but with neither the conviction nor moralizing to pull it off, and it reads more like a cop out for all the nihilism than an actual idea) But, it's still better at creating suspense and general fright than just about every other horror movie I've seen recently, so shit, I'll give it a B.

Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (2008)
Nick and Nora drive around NY having a generally unpleasant time, arguing about boys and girls and dragging the audience along for the drudgery. It's only redeemed by Michael Cera's dry one liners, which are almost canceled out by annoying indie-band name drops and twee quirkiness (look it's a Yugo! haha! Look, they drew popular indie band names around the title card like school notebook. puke). D+/C-

Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Peter Jackson's second-to-last film before heading to Middle Earth, Heavenly Creatures tells the true story of two New Zealand teens (Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey) who form an unbreakable and destructive friendship. Jackson's manic camera movements, dutch-angle close ups and realer-than-real color saturation create an instantly-recognizable, surrealistic canvas to paint his characters. Winslet and Lynskey nail crazy - Lynskey the angsty brooding type, Winslet confident and bright (with occasional steps into overacting).

Jackson's impressive trick is keeping the story grounded by Lynskey's character's real life diaries, while still coloring outside the lines during the girl's escapes into f/x fantasy that slowly become more nightmarish to anyone watching. The farther they are allowed to run into their own world, the farther they are from ever being reigned in, taking the audience with them to the devastating and inevitable conclusion. B+


The Juice Box said...

I'm so glad you also disliked "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist."

I kind of want to see "The Strangers," but I'm a puss when it comes to scary movies. Even if they're predictable. I saw "Funny Games" and thought it was ridiculous, though, so if it's anything like on that level, I could probably stand watching it and laughing at whatever crap the director's trying to make unique.

And, since you saw "Funny Games" ... were you not annoyed by that "pause-rewind" scene toward the end? I really hate when characters talk to cameras, also. Guh.

I have so many of my own "wasted postage" posts for the end of this month ... ooh, boy.

Abby said...

When the trailer for The Strangers started airing near my place, a few of my friends and I were creeped out by the one scene that ended up being what I considered one of about three scary scenes in the whole film (the one on most of the posters of Tyler and the dude standing behind her), so we looked into the "inspired by true events" thing, and it really was about as loosely based as you can get without flat-out lying.

The actual event was pretty violent, but not memorable enough for me to write out here and not as relentlessly cruel as the film was. I'll agree with your 50 minutes take – that is something that could easily happen to anyone and it was pretty frightening, especially considering the viewer is already thrown without warning into these bad vibes from Tyler and Speedman's evident uncomfortable argument for the opening.

Honestly... I think the blonde masked tormentor's voice was the scariest part. She sounded like a twisted fuck, and masks always have the desired effect, but the rest was a bit of a disappointment.


Finally, Dennis from It's Always Sunny was in it and that was weird. The end.

Warped Coasters said...

the shot with the guy in the background behind Tyler was one of the scariest for me, too. I'm happy to see Dennis is getting some film roles, even if he is limited to (SPOILER) getting his head blown off.

Professor Film said...

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is indeed that: Infinite. Never has 90 minutes felt so long. So many things happen to the titular characters, and yet nothing happens. It's name-dropping of "indie" bands becomes comical, as does its belief that it has anything to say about today's youth. Am I really watching a girl have her first orgasm in a recording studio? However, it has one line of dialogue that a friend and I actually do quote on occasion: "If anyone is getting raped in that van, it's definitely a guy." As for "The Strangers," I think it's the best directed horror film I've seen in years. It is actually suspenseful and just a little bit scary. I can't remember the last time I've said that about a film. Yeah, the ending sucks. And I could have done without the religious kids handing out pamphlets to the killers. But when the movie works, it WORKS. But I completely agree it's a low-rent "Funny Games" without the social commentary. And I will continue to defend "Funny Games" until my dying breath.