Holy Motors and the Cathedral of Cinema

I first saw Holy Motors as part of Fantastic Fest in September. I wrote a brief summary that pretty much just amounted to “see this film.” As it is currently in the middle of a limited run across the county, I decided that it was time for a follow-up.

I’m not going to attempt to summarize Holy Motors. Trying to tie it up into a bite-sized package just doesn’t work. People have tried, and they always fail. None of the synopses that I have read have gotten it right. Everything I have read grabs on to elements of the plot, but makes them sound more important than they actually are. The true essence of this film is what lies underneath. I encourage you to see this film as blank as possible. Try not to learn too much about it ahead of time, and just go in prepared to experience it.

I was extremely happy to see it open in Seattle and to have the opportunity to experience this brilliant, amazing film again. As excited as I was to be there, and as much as I still enjoyed the film the second time around the experience was a little disappointing this time. The presentation was lackluster: the print was scratched, the colors were washed out, the sound system kept flattening out and we even lost picture at one point. I am truly sorry for anyone experiencing the film for the first time under such circumstances.

The other problem, though, was the audience. While they were quiet and respectful (a fact I am extremely grateful for, since I didn’t anticipate them being so well-behaved when I arrived), I couldn’t help but feel that they just weren’t on board. The air didn’t have the same electricity as that theater at the Drafthouse where I first saw the film. The energy just wasn’t the same. They weren’t excited.

My husband and I discussed the experience at length after we left, and we came to this simple conclusion: Films like Holy Motors need to be screened not in a theater, but in a Cathedral. In a place filled with like-minded people who have come together to celebrate and worship at the altar that is cinema. Not to mindlessly walk in and blindly accept whatever is given to them, mind you, but to take in the story being told with an open mind. To be an active participant in the events unfolding.  A place like Fantastic Fest. A place like Cannes, where Holy Motors premiered to thunderous applause. Not exclusively festivals, but places where people come to not only experience film, but to be overcome by it. To be taken away by it.

Films like Holy Motors require more than just passive viewing. This isn’t a movie that you can go into, sit for a couple of hours, have everything given to you and then walk out to discuss it with your tweed-wearing friends over a bowl of pho. Films like this require you to give something too. You have to allow yourself to be open to the experience. Because Holy Motors is an experience. Everything you love about the medium is encapsulated and celebrated on that screen, and it wants to take you by the hand and lead you on a crazy little adventure. But it requires you to take the hand that is offered and to be a willing and eager participant in that journey. It’s not going to drag you. It requires a leap of faith on your part. That your surrender to it and open your heart for a couple of hours and really let it in.

This has been a really great year for film. Moonrise Kingdom, The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cloud Atlas, Argo…the list goes on and on. So many brilliant movies have been released recently that have touched my brain and my heart. But Holy Motors got into my soul. And it lives there now. And it is amazing. And I am so happy to have had the experience not only of seeing it, but of sharing it with my people. With my congregation. This film is everything we love and treasure about cinema and seeing it is a unique experience. But you have to be open to it. You have to open your heart and let it in and let it touch you.

So when the opportunity to see this film presents itself, get together a group of your favorite cinephile friends and go in ready to experience something completely new and wonderful. Embrace the moment. Give in to the experience.

Happy Birthday, Blog!!!

Just a quick shout-out in celebration. Today is my little blog’s first birthday! One year ago today I started this baby up with really no idea of what I was doing or where it would go. I wrote some stuff, I learned some stuff, and I started talking to some cool-ass people across the land about our shared love of movies, games and all things nerdy.

I am having a blast doing this, and I hope you are all finding some sort of fulfillment/geek-out value in reading it. Thank you all for joining me and being a part of this little adventure. I plan to keep it going and would love to have you all along for the ride.

Love, Horrorella

Review: The Bay

The Bay is a found footage thriller written by Michael Wallach and directed by Barry Levinson (crazy, right?). It chronicles a parasitic outbreak that hits a small Maryland town on the Fourth of July in 2009. And not your standard parasites where you feel kind of sick and you poop a lot (though that would make for an interesting flick too). These things are terrifying. You eventually get a good look at them about halfway through the film, and YIKES.

Rather than your standard found footage story coming from a single hand-held camera, Levinson expands the documentary approach and manages to both leverage the found footage tool and keep the film structured more as a traditional narrative. The backbone of the story is a young woman who was reporting from the festivities. She opens the film from a present-day Skype chat and explains that she is telling her story for the first time, and that all of the footage to be seen on this website had been confiscated by the government at the time of the events. This is the first time anyone is seeing it. The footage that we see is a combination of the events shot that day by her film crew, vacation videos from tourists, hospital and police security footage and video chats between various doctors and government organizations. Put together, it sets up scenes found in a more traditional film, but are shown through the eye of a direct camera. She narrates and explains as we move along, providing a background for the events as they progress.

The great part about The Bay is the way the story unfolds. You don’t get the whole story up front – in the beginning, you only know that tragic events befell this quaint Maryland town on the Fourth of July. You don’t know the culprit, how it came to be or how it operates. That information is revealed slowly, over the course of the film, which contributes a great deal to the tension being set up. When bad shit starts happening, you don’t know what it is or why. You are left to think the same thing as the characters: “WTF?” And then, little by little, you being to understand just what is happening to these people.

Besides being an interesting story (if you are at all phobic of disease or creepy-crawlies that can invade and destroy you without your knowledge, you are in for some good squirming), The Bay is a good example of what can be accomplished when you push past boundaries. In this case, the boundaries inherently set in found-footage. Like V/H/S earlier this year, The Bay found a new way to utilize this storytelling mechanism and deliver something outside the box to its audience. By taking a more documentary approach to the presentation, Levinson was able to bypass (or at least minimize) some of the sticky problems that tend to accompany the found footage approach – particularly the question of “Why is this still being filmed?” Much of the more intense moments are seen through the reporter’s camera or through security footage (as opposed to say, a big camera from the 1980’s being held by a dude being chased by a bunch of witches), so this catch is side-stepped (for the most part).  It’s a new way to present an often-abused style, and I enjoyed the steps that Wallach and Levinson took to make it different.

While I enjoyed The Bay, it did have its shortcomings. Sometimes it was a little too on-the-nose. The eco message got a little heavy-handed at times (though I did appreciate the fact that the disaster was based in real science, rather than “we dumped toxic goo into the bay and now we have monsters!”). The biggest problem that the film suffered from was obviousness – particularly in the dialogue. Many of the characters were much too direct and on point with some of the lines, and it tended to detract from the scene at play. Had they not stated the obvious, and left the audience alone to pick up the intention, I feel like some of the scenes would have been more effective. But overall, I’m calling it a worthwhile experience.

The Bay opened to a pitifully small handful of theaters a couple of weeks ago, but is available on the various VOD services, so you still have the opportunity to give it a watch.

Review: It’s in the Blood

It’s in the Blood is the story of a father, Russell (Lance Henriksen), a son, October (Sean Elliot – also the co-writer of the film) and their tragic past. The film opens with October returning home after a long absence to spend some time with his father and hopefully put the past (unknown to the audience, at this point, so I’m not going to spoil it) to rest. The two obviously have a strained relationship, but both seem to be trying, in their own ways, to push past that and mend fences, though October seems to be more willing to talk about the fissure than Russell does. They set off into the woods. Not long into their hike, Russell falls into a ravine breaks his leg. The two must now find a way to escape the woods and return to the safety of civilization.

This isn’t simply a survival story though – a dark presence is following them. Both characters begin to see a strange form lurking in the woods, among the trees. Bit by bit, they are overwhelmed by the memories that they have been trying to forget, as the past begins to overtake them and force the confrontation that they have been avoiding.
The film bounces around between the present, the mysterious events of the past, and the creepy, monstrous images that both men begin seeing in the woods. You’re not entirely positive what is real, and what is imagined. It can be a little confusing at times, but I’m not counting that as a complete negative, since it adds to the film’s fever-dream feel. The various storylines sort of swirl together into a horrific nightmare, leaving both the characters and the audience feeling confused and lost. The only downside is that it does make it a little easier to get lost in the proceedings if you’re not paying attention.

It’s in the Blood is a good example of how the scares can still be brought on a minimal budget. Not everything worked, but they used some decent practical effects, and the opening scene creeped me the fuck out. Director Scooter Downey employed some great visuals and some wicked sound elements there, and the result really gets under your skin. And the various shots and pans of the foggy woods are utterly eerie, and set the scene nicely.

One of the ultimate high points has to be Lance Henriksen. He really brings it all to this story – as he does in every film he works on. No matter what the project, he puts everything he has into his roles. It’s what makes him such a strong actor. Here, he’s given a wide range of material to work with. Russell is a man just struggling to get by – haunted by past events and the various losses he has had to overcome in his life, he is barely hanging on. He spends his days at work, and comes home to an empty house. The loneliness and guilt are eating him up inside, and yet he pushes through the pain. You can see this in Henriksen before the character even comes out and explains his situation to October and to the audience. But he also gets some wonderfully charming and comedic moments. There is a particular scene where he teaches October to drive a stick shift (the car in question, by the way, is an old Mustang with cop lights on top of it – awesome) that is just fantastic.

Overall, It’s in the Blood is definitely worth a watch. The story is a little clumsy at times – it doesn’t always flow as smoothly as it should, some of the dialogue is a bit rough and I would have appreciated a little more background on the family, but I still found it to be an enjoyable experience. I love the theme and the focus on being pursued and haunted by guilt and regret. You can’t outrun the past forever – your demons will manifest and devour you whole. It’s in the Blood is now available on the various VOD services.