Monday, 12 January 2015

The Guest (2014)

Jesus, new surprise favourite right here.

If I'd known who Adam Wingard was before today I'd have seen this a lot sooner. Hot on the heels of You're Next, and V/H/S and V/H/S 2 Wingard produces this and adds to the list of fantastic horror-comedy films I never realised he was in charge of. It's the sort of black comedy that you'll probably only appreciate if you've watched a lot of horror movies, producing laughter at times that'll makes family members worry about you.

The Guest is a darkly violent thriller in which a soldier, just discharged from the US army, meets the family of a fellow soldier whose dying wish was that his family was taken care of. David Collins arrives in small town New Mexico and is exceedingly polite, warm and helpful. Things take a dramatic turn as David's particular brand of "help" escalate everything around the family to dreadful ends.

Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey fame, brings a psychotic energy to the main character. He's very polite, charming and a smooth talker, but at the drop of a hat is prone to extreme threats and even more extreme violence. In a bizarre sort of way, David isn't a bad guy despite all the atrocities he commits. He genuinely thinks he's helping because of everything he has been through. An unerring sense of loyalty to his dead friend and the family he swore to protect just makes the exciting conclusion of The Guest an even more messed up finale.

This is a brutal film. Like You're Next, there is a lot of on-screen, bloody violence. Wingard takes a different approach to combat than some of the films that obviously influenced the action scenes in other ways. It manages to achieve the same raw and harsh feel that the Bourne films have, but does so in the opposite way. Where Bourne has a shaky camera jumping all over in a frenetic craze, The Guest locks off with steady shots so you see every punch, stab and shot in visceral detail.

The Guest draws inspiration from a lot of places, action films like Bourne actually being one of the smallest contributors. There are countless pastiches and allusions to other horrors movies and directors throughout, all done fleetingly enough to not overstay their welcome or be too obvious about it. Importantly, none of these are jokes. The Guest plays it straight throughout.

 The real influences are from films like the director's previous works and some other really style-heavy films. Drive and Only God Forgives are two that the film is very reminiscent of, in soundtrack and visuals respectively. The Guest features this eerie synth-heavy soundtrack from start to finish that hits the beats perfectly. Oddly enough, most of it is played in the film itself, from the car stereo or the DJ decks or the soundtrack to a party. Seriously, the soundtrack and sound design elevate this from "pretty good" to "holy shit", and I'm not even that into synthy stuff. It takes the creepiness that Dan Stevens seems so natural at and builds a wonderful sense of dread.

Visually, the film riffs on similar levels to the soundtrack. It's so incredibly eighties in so many ways. Lots of flashing visuals, neon and bright lights punctuate the film's major setting in the desert via parties and other scenes to create this cocaine-haze of an atmosphere culminating in the mind bogglingly hectic, bright, visually delightful finale.

The Guest is a great thriller. With creepiness and dread seeping out of every pore for the first half, the payoff in the last act as everything comes to a head is totally worth it. With it's brooding synthy score and hallucinogenic visuals it's a feast for the sense. And with the correct, specifically fucked up sense of humour it'll have you laughing from start to finish.

What. The. Fuck.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Nightcrawler (2014)

For months I've been excitedly yammering from my soapbox about how fantastic Jake Gyllenhaal is and how much of a roll he is on. If anybody now questions my stance on the matter, I shall simply point them towards this film and await their grovelling apology.

This is a guy who has been making the right moves from the start and has a back catalogue to back up such a claim. Gyllenhaal's had a strong starring career spanning over a decade filled with films like Donnie Darko, Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac. His last three films were Enemy, Prisoners and End of Watch. All three of these are fantastic. It's not often that you get someone these days who is consistently in such high quality productions without selling out to either Hollywood blockbusters or easy cash cows like rom-coms. You can't get away from the fact that Prince of Persia exists, but Gyllenhaal has a filmography that will lead to many people, much like myself, looking over it and slowly coming to the realisation that he's one of the most talented actors working today.

And so, combining such a talent with a film like Nightcrawler is a guaranteed recipe for success. Nightcrawler sees Gyllenhaal as the creepy, psychopathic Lou Bloom who jumps head first into the dark underbelly of LA "nightcrawling"; the act of turning up at crime scenes, filming them and selling the footage to local news. Carjackings, home invasions, robberies, traffic accidents. All fair game. Lou takes the motto "if it bleeds, it leads" to heart and sets out on a terrifyingly escalating quest to become the best at this parasitic, leeching profession.

Lou Bloom is quite reminiscent of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) in many ways. Both are high-functioning psychopaths without any real regard for the people around them. Neither are the heroes of their stories. Both of them are likely to be held up as rolemodels for success. Neither of them should be. Both of them eschew real dialogue for verbose monologuing. Neither of them see relationships as anything other than transactions of power.

The film itself has many similarities with American Psycho as well. Where AP was a satire of 80s yuppie culture and excess, Nightcrawler is a biting attack on both the media with its voyeuristic take on tragedy and by extension the people that consume it. Where news in an idealistic world would be all factual, informative and focussed on the important issues, that's not how it works in the real world. What people want to see is something provocative and graphic. One news editor's description of her programme to Bloom hits modern TV news right on the nose: "Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the road with her throat cut".

Nightcrawler makes you very uncomfortable with a person like Lou Bloom, but he's the kind of necessary evil to produce the media society loves to consume. Any normal person would say they want to see important issues on the news: political reform, humanitarian works, corruption etc. But look around facebook and twitter and the things getting most shared are much closer to things like vigilante justice, isolated horrific incidents and the occasional heroic act of a single person. It doesn't take a genius to figure out though, that to have the footage of the cop pulling the kid out of the burning car, you had to have someone stop, not help and then get their camera out. Lou Bloom is that person. Lou Bloom makes a living out of the being that person.

Dan Gilroy made Nightcrawler as his directorial debut, and what a feature it is to debut with. The film is slick and twisted throughout. It delves deep into the nocturnal darkside of LA and its morality-free world of ambulance and cop chasers and only briefly comes up for air. Much like its main character Nightcrawler doesn't let up and doesn't let go for its entire run. It's a brutal and critical attack on the unbridled voyeuristic, spectacle obsessed media. A 21st century twist on the American Psycho taking aim at the producer and consumer of a culture rather than just the members of it. It's a completely twisted take on the quintessential American Success Story.

Nightcrawler is simply fantastic from start to finish. It was everything I expected it to be from the first time I saw the first teaser all those months ago. It's incredibly rare that I let myself get hyped up so much for something and then it actually delivers up to my expectations.

Just go see Nightcrawler. Just seriously go see it.