Female Director Spotlight: The Radical, Feminist, and Czech Filmmaking of Věra Chytilová

Film history classes may pound the French New Wave into the heads of cinema students everywhere, but not much is said about the Czech New Wave. Unsurprisingly, this movement was in direct response to the French version and was an attempt to showcase the filmmaking talents emerging in Eastern Europe. These films were made in the 1960s and featured nonprofessional actors, long dialogue, and dark humor. One of the integral figures in this movement was director Věra Chytilová, whose 1968 film, Daisies, put her on the map as a daring feminist filmmaker. As described by Criterion, “No director pushed the boundaries of the Czechoslovak New Wave further than Věra Chytilová.” Her work pulsates with an anarchic energy, each frame saying something new and explosive. While not all of her work is as overtly political as Daisies, each of her films makes a political statement about women, the Soviet Union, economics, socialism, and more.

All of the films mentioned here were made before the 1968 invasion of the Soviet Union into Czechoslovakia. Due to her controversial filmmaking, it was impossible for her to find work as a director during this time. Daisies was banned from Czechoslovakia, so she had quite the reputation for her filmmaking style. While not all of her films are described here, Chylitová worked in a wide range of genres, making a sci-fi horror film called Wolf’s Hole and a rape-revenge film called Traps.

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‘I Trapped the Devil’ is a Tense, Yet Slow, Look at Evil

Despite the Christmas tree and colored lights that deck the halls of I Trapped The Devil, this is anything but an uplifting Christmas tale. There are no presents under this tree, only paranoia and seeming delusions about evil that wash away any wishes of good fortune that are whispered during the holiday season. Josh Lobo’s directorial debut is a haunting tale that makes the potentially hellish ordeal of celebrating Christmas even more terrifying.

I Trapped The Devil follows a couple, Matt (Josh Bowen) and Karen (Susan Burke), as they decide to visit Steve (Scott Poythress), Matt’s brother, for Christmas. Steve lives alone in a large house and has suffered some kind of tragedy that led to him losing his wife and child (though this is never fully explained). However, Steve is not excited to see them; in fact he is furious. He paces and wrings his hands while the couple declare they are staying to keep him company for the holidays, no matter how much he protests. But, they come to regret this choice as they discover Steve’s secret: he has someone locked in the basement. Behind a padlocked door, adorned with a giant crucifix, is what Steve says is the devil. We never get to see this man, but we hear his bewitching voice as he tries to get someone to release him from this prison. But is he really the devil? This is what Matt and Karen grapple with as they begin to question Steve’s sanity. Has grief driven him to madness or has he really trapped the essence of evil?

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‘Pet Sematary’ Struggles with The Past But Delivers Delightfully Original Scares

Pet Sematary is a book that author Stephen King called his “worst” because of how much is scared him. And it is a terrifying story, dealing with the monstrosity that is grief. While it was adapted into a film by Mary Lambert in 1989, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have adapted it again, in a move that made horror fans wary and begged the question: why do we need this film? But this recent adaptation, offering callbacks and homages to the original film while also creating a fresh take on a classic horror story, establishes a more terrifying tale that examines the deep psychological trauma of grief and the horrifying actions people wrapped in grief are capable of.

The film begins with the Creed family moving from Boston to the sleepy town of Ludlow, Maine. Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) has taken a position as a campus doctor with the goal of slowing down and spending more time with his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter, Ellie (Jete Laurence), and baby son, Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). Shortly after they move in, Rachel and Ellie discover a pet cemetery in the woods behind their house. They learn from their neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), that the children of Ludlow have buried their pets there for generations, making a sort of twisted ritual out of it. But something sinister lurks around the cemetery, a force that seems to feed on grief.

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Larry Fessenden’s ‘Depraved’ is A Mess of Limbs, Organs, and Emotions

Cracking open Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in high school probably seemed like a chore. Flipping through pages of dense prose, mandatory class discussion, and inevitable reading quizzes sucked the enjoyment out of such a rich novel. There have been plenty of adaptations of the tale, but now Shelley’s masterpiece has received a 21st-century makeover in the form of Larry Fessenden’s latest film, Depraved, a deeply-sad horror film that speaks to our societally-ingrained selfishness.

Don’t worry, there’s no need to dust off those old, crinkled copies of Frankenstein from your parents’ basement to enjoy Depraved. Even those unfamiliar with the plot will enjoy Fessenden’s contemporary interpretation. Adam (Alex Breaux) is Depraved’s Frankenstein’s monster, a young man put together from different parts in a dingy lab built in a warehouse in New York City that resembles any New York millennial’s apartment. Scientist Henry (David Call), employed by Polidori (Joshua Leonard), has finally figured out how to resurrect the dead. But Henry is a veteran suffering from PTSD, trying to use his findings to help future soldiers. So on top of caring for himself, he must take care of Adam and teach him how to be a human, from eating and speaking to reading and playing ping pong. Adam floats through the world in a strange limbo of vague understanding, absorbing the world with an innocence only experienced by the blissfully naive. Yet, this all starts to fall apart as Adam begins to regain memories and learn that he is nothing more than a science experiment, meant to bring fame and fortune to Polidori’s pharmaceutical company.

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‘Funan’ Further Proves The Emotional Impact of Animation

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s communist party, overthrew the Cambodian government and took over the country, bringing with them four years of genocide. They forced Cambodians into work camps, massacred minority populations, and preached the benefits of communism to justify their violence. Denis Do’s animated film, Funan, tells the story of a family trying to survive and stay together in the face of this fascist regime. Its beautiful animation style and honest, yet non-exploitative, portrayals of violence create a film with raw emotional power.

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Yeo Siew Hua Creates a Dreamy Singaporean Noir in ‘A Land Imagined’

Two officers stand together, smoking cigarettes, and ruminating over Singapore’s land reclamation. As they gaze over the water at the towering metallic behemoths of industry on the horizon, they ruminate on Singapore’s land expansion over 30 years and how it doesn’t seem to be stopping, just like their investigation into two missing migrant workers. One asks why they are even looking for people that no one cares about. Director Yeo Siew Hua uses his latest film, A Land Imagined, to make you care about those that go ignored and those whose disappearances go investigated through a dreamy noir.

This is not the wealthy Singapore we typically see; this is industrial Singapore that is full of migrant workers living in cramped dorms. This is a Singapore that feels akin to the dystopic worlds of Ghost in the Shell or Blade Runner. Police investigator Lok moves through this environment in search of a missing migrant worker, Wang. Wang, injured on a land reclamation site and suffering from insomnia, seeks some kind of relief in an internet cafe, awash in neon colors and full of a cacophony of clacking keys and whirring computer fans. He is searching for connection, for a friend, in a place where he doesn’t know anyone. But his search for friendship goes awry and Lok must try to find out just exactly what’s happening at these work sites.

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‘Knife+Heart’ Is The Sexy Queer Slasher Of Your Dreams

In most cases, a man in a leather mask masturbating while watching a young man dance would be a red flag. But at the sex club in the opening of Yann Gonzalez’s Knife+Heart, this is expected and even encouraged. The masked man and the young dancer go home together, presumably for a night of fun. However, it all goes downhill when this man reveals he has a dildo knife and kills his partner. This is Gonzalez’s ridiculously delicious opening of his queer slasher for the ages about a killer tracking down porn stars in Paris during the summer of 1979.

Anne Parèze (played by the ethereal Vanessa Paradis) is a porn producer who exclusively makes gay male porn at a discount. Her performers are constantly demanding payment, even discussing their paychecks mid-blow job. Meanwhile, Anne won’t stop drinking her pain away after a breakup with her girlfriend of 10 years, who is also her editor. Amidst this turmoil, someone begins picking off her porn stars one by one, casting a shadow of fear over the studio. But while performing her grief, Anne decides to use these crimes as inspiration for her next porno, Homo-cidal. The narrative intertwines her desire to make the next great porn film, her investigation into the killer, and her declining mental state in the face of a broken relationship.

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