Archives For September 22, 2011

TIFF’11 Review: Kill List

September 22, 2011 — 3 Comments

I have had a hard time coming to terms with Kill List. It’s a very well made film, with great production values and some very good acting. But for the majority of the film it is also fairly inert. There is little to attach to emotionally, the plot is mostly uninteresting, and the hints at something larger going on get mostly lost in the shuffle. That is, until the last act of the film, which is a piece of bravura horror filmmaking. If only the rest of the film held that level entertainment.

The main plot of Kill List follows two hitmen taking on a job, whacking a list of terrible people. This section of the film, as I’ve said, is fairly well made in every way, except for the fact that it’s quite boring. The two actors have a good rapport, but nothing is really added to the film because of it. It’s all just stale, to the point where I had trouble staying awake.

And then the last act comes in. I won’t begin to spoil what happens, except to say that it’s scary and fucked up. The ending of the film left me reeling, and momentarily I actually thought the film was kind of brilliant.

I quickly came to my senses and realized that Kill List as a whole is problemati. Most of it is simply not engaging at all. That last act is amazing, but it also comes about with almost no relation to the rest of the film, save for a few clues throughout. I would say that the film is worth watching if only to get to that ending, but it’s a tough call. Is the slow burn really worth the trouble? Only barely.


Carré blanc follows in the footsteps of some of the great experimental utopian sci-fi, most notably THX 1138. The comparison to that George Lucas film is definitely apt. Carré blanc plays very much like a tonal experiment, with a spare plot, little dialogue, striking imagery and repetitious music and voice over. The film lulls you into a mood of cold horror, and it packs quite a lot of social commentary into a fairly brief running time.

The world of the film is fascinating. Carré blanc shows us a “futue” in which people are constantly committing suicide. Government, corporations and the wealthy control everything and make life for others a living hell. Those higher up fall into horrific sadistic tendencies, playing torture games with their underlings and often beating or killing them.

There is a plot to the film, and in some ways it’s kind of a romance, or at least a look at a troubled marriage. We follow two kids who started with nothing, and as adults, the man is now one of those top level people, torturing others, being a terrible human being. This puts a strain on their marriage, but slowly his wife manages to get through to him, and they end up rebelling against the system.

Carré blanc also has a wonderfully dry sense of humour. There is a lot of talk about croquet being a family sport… and it’s very physical, too. The use of elevator music is annoyingly hilarious. Even some of the darker, more sadistic stuff ends up being quite funny, even if it makes you feel bad to laugh.

All in all, Carré blanc is a kind of sci-fi I very much enjoy. It presents us with a sharply crafted world, defined primarily through great imagery. The story is slight, but is actually quite powerful in conjunction with the rest of the film. And most of all, the mood of it all is oppressive, but endlessly intriguing. Even after the film was over, I was wishing I could spend more time in that world to learn as much as possible about it. That’s a very good sign for this sort of film.

TIFF’11 Review: Tyrannosaur

September 22, 2011 — 8 Comments

Tyrannosaur is proof positive that you can make a film too dark, too depressing, too bleak. Director Paddy Considine introduced the screening by saying that Tyrannosaur is a film to endure more than enjoy. He was exactly right. There was almost nothing to enjoy in the film, and for the most part it played as a terrible endurance test, both of my ability to withstand overwhelmingly trite bleakness as well as my patience for boring cliche.

Tyrannosaur tells the story of a very violent man forming a bond with a woman stuck in an incredibly psychopathic, abusive marriage. Considine doesn’t hold back. He fills the film with as much dark, awful material as possible. Yelling, insults, dog-killing, urinating on people, severe beatings, the mauling of a child, rape, murder. There’s no end to it, and I could not stand it.

That’s not to say that I can’t handle such material. I love dark movies, and often the darker the better. But the darkness must have a purpose. If all we get from Tyrannosaur is a guy learning to be less angry and a woman learning she doesn’t have to put up with abuse, then the level of violence and horror does little more than blunt the impact of those themes. It’s a bad movie, with little to say, and content that is so hard to stomach that it almost becomes laughable.

There are a lot of parallels between Take Shelter and the Coen Brothers’ dark comedy, A Serious Man. Both have a lead male character who feels like he’s losing his grip on life. Both men feel a sense of impending doom. And both have weird nightmares that haunt them throughout. But, where A Serious Man is a wry look at the impossibility of controlling the ways of the universe, Take Shelter is an incredibly dark and emotional look at mental illness.

Take Shelter stars Michael Shannon as a working class family man who begins having ominous dreams about storms and animals and people attacking him and his daughter. These dreams begin to take a toll on his mental state, until it’s revealed that he has a family history of paranoid schizophrenia. As the film goes on, he starts working to expand his backyard storm shelter to protect him from the storm in his dreams. All the while, he is trying to get psychological help and keep his family from falling into disarray.

Everything in the film hinges on Michael Shannon’s absolutely spectacular performance. He is incredibly quiet, but also seething with anger and frustration and fear. At one point he has a huge outburst, and the power in his performance and dialogue was so intense that a member of the audience audibly gasped. Watching Shannon succumb to mental illness is truly stunning.

Director Jeff Nichols also does the material right by building that sense of dread and paranoia to an extremely uncomfortable degree. Throughout it all, though, Nichols still keeps a focused eye on the real effects of Shannon’s actions, making us feel for this working guy who is throwing his family into emotional and financial turmoil. Jessica Chastain, who plays his wife in the film, does an excellent job of grounding the sad reality of the situation.

Take Shelter is an amazing film. It basically took my breath away, with an ending that had me practically hyperventilating. Michael Shannon is amazing, in a role that deserves to win every award possible, and the film overall is carefully and perfectly directed for maximum effectiveness.