“Get rid of him, or your daughter dies”
The theme of home invasion has been a staple of the horror/thriller genre for many years. From Peckinpah’s classic Straw Dogs, mainstream big budget studio movies like Panic Room to Ils, a movie from The New French Extremity. The desecration of the home has provided an unsettling storyline which can easily gnaw at an audiences nerves. One of the latest entries in this genre is Secuestrados or Kidnapped to give it it’s English title. Quite simply this is a brutal, nihilistic masterpiece. One of the best thrillers I have seen in years & one I simply had to review here.
After a brief prologue where a man wakes, bloodied & battered & the side of a road with a plastic shopping bag over his head, the movie starts with a family moving into their new house. The family comprises of the husband & wife, Jaime & Marta & their 18yr old daughter Isa. Once the removal men have gone, Marta starts to prepare the families first meal in their new house & is arguing with Isa who wants to go out when one of the glass doors is shattered & three men dressed in black, wearing balaclavas burst in. The three family members are quickly rounded up & placed on the sofa. It soon becomes obvious that the intruders are all from eastern Europe as they speak in a language the family cannot understand. Eventually one of the intruders addresses them in Spanish & demands they place all their credit cards on the table & write down the pin numbers, he also demands their mobile phones. Jamie is then told he will accompany one of the men to a cashpoint where he will draw out the maximum allowed on each card. If he refuses his wife & daughter will be executed. Jamie agrees & the two men leave. As the night progresses events spiral out of control leading to a shocking & brutal climax.
This movie absolutely blew me away. From the first minute to the last seconds Secuestrados held me gripped as the story unfolded. Director Miguel Angel Vivas, who co-wrote the screenplay with Javier Garcia creates a brooding air of claustrophobia & sheer terror as the family find themselves increasingly helpless as the night progresses. The cast is superb, the three actors playing the family are excellent, with particular praise going to Manuela Velles who plays Isa. Her performance is stunning, she captures the terror & hysteria of her character perfectly, in a role it would have been easy to overplay & lose all believability. Fernando Cayo & Ana Wagener as Jaime & Marta manage to convey the rising terror & utter helplessness they find themselves in. The three intruders are well portrayed but Vivas wisely concentrates on the family. Driving home their peril & echoing that primal fear in everyone if their home is breached. The movie is relentless, neither the family or the audience is given any respite from the unfolding horror. Using only the interior of the house & the interior of the car for the entire movie, Vivas keeps the audience right in the heart of the ordeal. At times the movie employes a split screen so the viewer can see Jamie in the car at the same time as what is happening to his wife & daughter at home. Vivas uses this technique sparingly & when employed works incredibly well, highlighting the separation of the family unit & a distraught Jamie’s hopeless despair, wondering how his wife & daughter are. Everything about this movie is note perfect. Not once does it descend into any genre clichés. The family members behave just as any of us would & the intruders, while not the main focus of the film are nothing like the genre caricatures they could have been if the film had been handled by a lesser director. It must be pointed out that this movie pulls no punches, it is extremely brutal & savage. There are some very strong scenes of violence & sexual violence. This is not a film for the faint of heart. The violence is neither stylised or glamorized, it is ugly & shocking.
Secustrados is one of those movies that slips under the radar. If there was any justice it would be a huge box office hit. A wonderful brooding masterpiece, but don’t take my word for it, just see it, I promise you will not be disappointed.
“We’re not up to feature film length yet”
Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is a movie I became aware of due to the excessive hyperbole surrounding it on its DVD release in the UK. After being promised a movie that was “sobering, nightmarish & terrifying” I rented the film as soon as it was released. I don’t think there are sufficient adjectives in the English language to describe my utter disappointment & anger at the film when I finished watching it. I can honestly say that if I was to compile a list of the worst movies ever made, Funny Games would make the top 3.
The plot of Funny Games is the story of a wealthy family visiting their Austrian lake house for the weekend. As they arrive they spot one of their neighbours with two young men who the neighbour introduces as friends of his son. Soon the two young men, Peter & Paul begin to impose themselves on the family. They harass Anna (the wife) over some eggs they wish to borrow, in the process breaking the phone. Once Anna asks her husband Georg to throw them out, the young men turn violent, Peter breaks Georg’s leg with a golf club & Paul kills the family’s dog. Georg, Anna & their son Georgie are taken hostage. The young men then explain they wish to play some games & see if the family can survive until 9am the next morning.
In my personal opinion one of the worst cinematic crimes a film director can commit is to insult the intelligence of his/her viewers. Funny Games does precisely this. The character of Paul is aware of being in a movie. He frequently breaks the fourth wall, asking questions of the audience & in one ridiculous scene, grabs a remote control & rewinds the movie to change events! Paul’s character is at complete odds with the rest of the cast, including Peter who play the movie out as a serious piece of drama. There is never any background or motivation given to the two young men. They are simply there doing what they do. Haneke has stated that he wanted to make a pointless movie about violence & the media. If that was his objective, he completely failed. Yet ironically he had the perfect beginning to make such a film. Watching the opening half an hour brought to mind the real life case of Leopold & Loeb, two young men who believing Friedrich Neitzsche’s theory of the superhuman murdered a 14yr old boy, just to see if they could commit the perfect crime. Had Haneke taken the movie in that direction it could have been a wonderfully powerful movie. Sadly Haneke chose poorly & we have the mess of a movie that Funny Games is. The cast do their best with what they have but even there, this movie falls flat on its face. The movie fails to illicit any menace to the characters of Peter & Paul. It seemed to me that even with a broken leg, Georg & Anna could have easily over powered the two young men pretty quickly & put an end to the farce. As it is Funny Games comes across as an over indulgent mess that is trying so hard to be something it clearly isn’t. Not content with torturing fans of foreign language horror films with this abysmal piece of crap, Haneke remade the movie shot for shot in the US with a cast that included Tim Roth & Naomi Watts. I can only assume they both got a huge payout to make such a dreadful movie.
Funny Games is a movie that can stand beside Colin, Goth & The Last Lovecraft as examples of the worst movies ever made. It truly is that bad. Funny Games has no redeeming features & is an insult to anyone with more than two brain cells. Avoid at all costs.
“No one can hurt him now, no one”
A l’interieur aka Inside is a film that can be likened to a kick in the face. Inside is a brutal, relentless & incredibly bloody movie that gives new meaning to the phrase New French Extremity. It’s violent content is easily as graphic as the powerhouse that is Martyrs, the movie itself isn’t quite the masterpiece Martyrs is but is a film that deserves & demands your attention, even if it is just to witness Beatrice Dalle’s wonderful performance.
Inside begins with a pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) who is involved in a car crash in bad weather which kills her husband. The film then skips forward to christmas eve, a depressed Sarah, who is struggling to come to terms with life without her husband is making final preparations for the birth of her baby, who is due the next day. That evening a stranger (Beatrice Dalle) knocks on the door & asks to use the phone to call for help. Sarah lies & says her husband is asleep, the woman answers by telling Sarah that her husband is dead. Sarah takes a photo through the door & calls the police. The police arrive but can find no trace of the woman, as they leave they promise Sarah they will have a patrol car come by to check on her throughout the night. Sarah develops the picture & recognises the woman from a picture she took earlier in the day. Sarah goes to bed but is woken by the woman, who is now in her bedroom with a pair of scissors trying to cut her stomach. Sarah fights the woman off & locks herself in the bathroom. It soon becomes clear the woman is there to take Sarah’s baby.
Beatrice Dalle is an actress I fell in love with in Betty Blue (Possibly the greatest movie ever made) Her debut movie performance in that film was incredible. She is as far as I’m concerned the most beautiful woman ever to grace the silver screen. Since Betty Blue her career has never quite matched the promise her debut hinted at. She has starred in some truly dreadful movies, none more so than the awful Trouble Every Day (which I will review one day if I can face sitting through it again). Her personal life has also been dogged by controversy. I’m glad to say with Inside Beatrice Dalle is back to her best. Dalle completely dominates this movie in a role that on the page has very little to it. Billed simply as La Femme, Dalle’s role is almost a “shape” like character. During the early stages of the movie Dalle creates a genuine air of menace, it is as the film builds to its climax that Dalle’s motives are revealed & her performance really shines. Dalle is ably supported by Alysson Paradis who gives a wonderfully downbeat performance as Sarah. Inside is not without its flaws, the plot isn’t that strong & the ending is pretty obvious after 15 odd minutes. But it is the imagery in the last reel that is shocking & extremely graphic. Inside sets out to shock & succeeds on just about every level in that respect. The final scene on the staircase is one of the most graphically harrowing scenes ever filmed.
In closing Inside is not as good as Martyrs or Haute Tension, but having said that so few films are. Inside is a film that I would recommend but only if you have a very strong stomach & can handle scenes of extreme bloodshed & brutality.
“I won’t let anyone come between us anymore”
First things first, if you haven’t seen or heard of this film, where on earth have you been? Haute Tension was at the vanguard of The New French Extremity. A cinematic tour de force, Haute Tension is a magnificently twisted cat & mouse thriller that until the arrival of Pascal Laugier’s incredible Martyrs, stood at the pinnacle of French horror cinema.
Haute Tension begins with Marie (Cecile de France) & Alex (Maiwenn le Besco) travelling by car to Alex’s parents house where they will stay for the weekend. Marie has just woken from a bad dream. Once the women arrive at the house Alex gives Marie a tour of the house & they eat a late supper before heading to bed. Unable to sleep, Marie lies on her bed listening to music & masturbating. She is disturbed by the sound of the front door bell. Marie watches from her door at the top of the stairs as Alex’s father answers the door. The man at the door slashes Alex’s father with a straight razor. The killer (Philippe Nahon) then pushes the father’s head between two rails on the staircase & pushes a bookcase along the side of the staircase, decapitating the father. The killer then goes from room to room murdering Alex’s family & taking her hostage in his van. Marie manages to avoid being found by the killer & hides away in the van with Alex as the killer drives away.
The name Haute Tension (High Tension) sums this movie up perfectly. Once the killer’s van leaves Alex’s parents house with the two women in the back, the movie becomes a game of cat & mouse between Marie & the killer. Director Alexandre Aja has created a movie which keeps escalating the tension to almost unbearable levels. The scene in the petrol station toilets really amps up the atmosphere & creates a palpable air of claustrophobia. I have to mention the cinematography by Maxime Alexandre, the film is one of the best looking films you will ever see. The scenes in & around the greenhouse are visually stunning. The three central actors all give wonderful performances, Nahon gives the role of the killer a real sense of menace. Maiwenn le Besco is excellent as Alex, her portrayal of a woman in the grip of utter terror is spot on. But it is Cecile de France whose performance steals the film. Her portrayal of Marie is exceptional. The movie has a much talked about ending which I obviously won’t spoil here, but it is an ending that seems to divide people 50/50 if they think it makes the movie or think it ruins the picture. Personally I think the ending is perfect. I must also point out that this film is explicitly violent, while not as brutal as Martyrs or Inside, the violence & bloodshed is still very strong & is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
If you haven’t yet seen Haute Tension then, quite frankly you are missing out on one of the best horror/thrillers ever made. Since the success of Haute Tension, Aja has carved a career out for himself in Hollywood, first with the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, followed by films like Mirrors & now seems to be making movies for 14-year-old boys (Piranha) Haute Tension remains his best film, one can only hope that one day he fulfils the promise shown in this movie. A true classic.
“It was used to make those buns”
The Untold Story is without a doubt the best movie in the Cat III genre. As good as movies like Red To Kill, The Ebola Virus & Her Vengeance are, they just don’t have the same impact as The Untold Story. A film that has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy due to it’s graphically violent content & a very disturbing scene depicting the murder of young children. This is a movie that is deeply shocking & at times very uncomfortable to watch, but it is also a very, very good movie.
Set in Maccau the film starts with Wong Chi Hang fleeing Hong Kong & moving to Maccau & The Eight Immortals restaurant, where he works as chef. After cheating at a game of Mah Jong with his employer, Hang butchers the entire family & takes over the restaurant. He dismembers the bodies of the family & cooks them in the buns he serves at the restaurant. Wong tries unsuccessfully to take legal ownership for the restaurant but can’t due to the owner not being able to sign the paperwork. The police who are investigating some body parts that washed up on a beach begin to get letters from the family of the missing restaurant owner as to his whereabouts. The police visit Wong on several occasions until they feel they have enough circumstantial evidence to arrest Wong & force a confession.
The Untold Story is an incredible film that 18 years after it’s release, has lost none of its power to shock & disturb. Directed by Herman Yau & supposedly based on a true events, The Untold Story grips you from the start & slowly draws you in as the horror unfolds. Prolific actor Anthony Wong is superb as Wong Chi Hang. He brings a constant air of menace to Hang & dominates the movie. His portrayal of a deranged killer is truly frightening. With the police, Yau employs a similar dramatic theme as The Last House On The Left. They are used as a comedic element to provide some light relief from the overriding air of tension & horror that dominates the rest of the movie. I have heard a lot of people criticise The Untold Story over this. I would disagree, the lightening of the movies tone by the police only serves to heighten the tension once Wong is back on screen. The movies’ content is very brutal & graphic. The chopstick rape scene is strong enough, as are the scenes of dismemberment & cannibalism. But it is the flashback to the slaughter of the original owner of The Eight Immortals restaurant & his family that is deeply shocking. Wong uses a meat cleaver to dispatch the family, but not before he has taunted & toyed with them. The children are killed last. This scene is very hard to watch, the young actors look genuinely scared & distressed.
I could continue with some of the themes & audience manipulation techniques that Yau has used in this movie, but I would be revealing too many spoilers. In closing I highly recommend The Untold Story. A shocking & brutal Cat III classic.