fbpx

Tag: John Carpenter

Editorials

7 Great Claustrophobic Films

June 29, 2020
Top 7 Great Claustrophobic Films [Source: Taste of Cinema}

Over the past few weeks, we’ve all been feeling a bit claustrophobic with being trapped inside so much. But cinema has proven that even when restricted, creativity can shine through. So today I’m recommending 7 great claustrophobic films, all based in small or restricted settings, from different genres to show how greatness can flourish even with small canvases.

Drama: 12 Angry Men

A jury is tasked with judging if a teenager is guilty of murder. Initially many think he’s guilty but when Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) disagrees it turns into a riveting debate on the values of justice. 12 Angry Men continues to impress as more time passes. The topics of justice, human nature, and doubt remain universal. And as it largely takes place in one room on a hot summer day it makes you feel as frustrated as the characters. It’s currently ranked 5th on IMDb’s top 250 and has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The leads of 12 Angry Men [Source: Slant Magazine]

Thriller: Rear Window

While confined to his apartment, wheelchair-bound photographer L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) witnesses his neighbour possibly committing murder. But how is he going to prove it? Rear Window is today regarded as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films. And it’s certainly impressive. As most of the action is shot inside Jeffries’ apartment, we as viewers are put in the same position as Jefferies. Unable to move too far and confined by circumstances beyond our control. It’s currently ranked 50th on IMDb’s top 250 and has a 99% approval rating on RT.

L. B. Jefferies’ apartment in Rear Window [Source: Spy Culture]

Action: The Raid

A group of police officers head to a high-rise to arrest a prominent crime lord. The officers are quickly ambushed, have their retreat cut-off, and many are killed by the high-rise’s residents. Can the remaining officers get to their target before the residents kill them? The Raid has been referred to as one of the best action movies of the past decade and the limited location of the high-rise works to its advantage. Keeping the story focused instead of meandering and making for some incredibly creative set-pieces. It holds a 7.6 IMDb score and an 86% RT approval rating.

Getting ready for a halway fight in The Raid [Source: Listal]

Biopic: 127 Hours

When Aron Ralston (James Franco) goes climbing in Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon he ends up falling and pinning his arm between a boulder and the wall. Can Aron survive in these dire circumstances? 127 Hours is difficult to watch. It’s based on a real-life incident and like previous entries, it does an amazing job putting you into the protagonist’s position by restricting the setting and Aron’s movement for most of the movie. So, when the climax comes, you’re left wondering if you could do what Aron did? 127 Hours was positively received by audiences and critics. Even being nominated for 2011s Best Picture Oscar.

Caught between a rock and a hard place in 127 Hours [Source: Empire Online]

Horror: The Thing (1982)

An Antarctic research station is invaded by an alien creature that assimilates and imitates other life forms. With communication lines cut and the cold wastes outside providing no hope of rescue how are the station’s researchers going to fight this creature? Especially when anyone they know could be the thing? Initially, critics reviled John Carpenter’s The Thing but it’s now considered a horror masterpiece. Thanks to its slow-building suspense and paranoia. Further amplified by the restricted nature of the research outpost setting. It’s ranked 164th in IMDB’s top 250 and has an 84% approval rating on RT.

Confined in the cold in The Thing (1982) [Source: 3 brothers film]

Surreal: The Exterminating Angel

When upper-class dinner guests are unable to leave their hosts living room for unexplained reasons, slowly all semblance of morality and etiquette between the guests crumbles, revealing only animals beneath. Exterminating Angel is a surreal black comedy that uses its humorous conceit of the guests being unable to leave a party to ridicule the bourgeoise. And while it’s certainly weirder than previous list entries you’re guaranteed to remember it. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. And currently has an 8.1 rating on IMDb and a 92% on RT.

One hell of a party in The Exterminating Angel [Source: Slant Magazine]

Romance: Time & Again

Former lovers Isabelle (Brigit Forsyth) and Eleanor (Siân Phillips) meet up 60 years after their relationship ended in a nursing home. With the action largely confined to two rooms, this short allows us to feel the isolation of both the main characters who have both lost their partners. And the limited scope emphasizes the great performances which immediately invest us in the couple and leaves us eager to learn about their history and ultimately their future. Time & Again has an 8.5 rating on IMDb and has received awards at several film festivals.

The central couple in Time and Again [Source: DaxiTales Ltd]

So ends our list of great claustrophobic films. Proving that a limited setting can still engage, thrill, excite, inform, terrify, challenge, and move us. But did we miss any out? Then let us know your favorite limited location film in the comments.

Also Read: Five Thought-Provoking Documentaries To Watch On BirdBox

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Retro Review: It Follows

June 8, 2019
It Follows poster

Over the past several years horror fans and critics have tended to pick an independent horror film and lavish huge amounts of praise and attention on them. Often declaring them as instant classics of the genre. But these films often prove very divisive. With other audiences claiming the films are overrated, not true horror films or simply not good. Examples include Hereditary (2018), The Witch (2015), The Babadook (2014) and the subject of today’s review, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014). Does it deserve its divisive reputation? Let’s find out.

Synopsis

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager enjoying all the foibles of growing into adulthood. One-night Jay decides to sleep with her new boyfriend for the first time. Afterwards, she is knocked out and taken to an abandoned building. There her boyfriend reveals he has passed a curse on to her. A shapeshifting creature which can take the form of anyone has begun following her and it wants her dead.

Her boyfriend then disappears leaving Jay to deal with the threat on her own. The one positive is that the creature only follows her at a walking pace, so Jay decides to use this to her advantage.

Along with her friends, she tracks down her boyfriend to get an explanation out of him and they learn that the only way the creature can be stopped is to transfer the curse to someone else. But can Jay bring herself to put another person in harm’s way or will she try something different?

What did I like?

The hyperbolic claims that It Follows is simply not a good film is baffling. Purely from a technical point of view, the film is great. As a horror film, It Follows has a firm grasp of how to create tension through its presentation. Using long takes, interesting camera movement and good actor direction to build anxiety about where the monster is and when it will strike. The score also builds a tense atmosphere through creating both a confrontational and quietly eerie soundscape.

The acting is also superb. With the story centred around teenagers, the film could easily become laughable if the cast weren’t believable. But all the main actors feel like real teenagers. Maika Monroe particularly stands out as an incredibly likeable, sympathetic and genuine lead. Her monologue about remembering her youth near the film’s beginning carries great weight because of her delivery. And the way all the friends talk about their childhoods and the antics they get up to gives a feeling of true friendship, allowing us to easily invest in their situation.

The film also pays tribute to older horror films in effective ways. With a synthesizer-heavy score, a stalking camera and an unknowable slow moving, shapeshifting monster, evoking the feeling of John Carpenters older horror films. But the film also has a very modern outlook.

Instead of simply killing characters for having sex or exploiting them for pointless nudity, It Follows is more a tale about teenagers coming to terms with the vulnerability of their bodies. Many scenes have Jay looking over her body and showing how she feels different now because of the danger brought on by the monster. But she never shies away from sex. Her challenge is choosing what to do with the burden she’s been given. As an extension, the women are not solely victims, like in many other horror movies. They take an active role in dealing with the threat, and they call the shots when it comes to sex. While most of the men are cowardly or self-centred. A far cry from the puritanical traditions of many older horror films.

This amalgam of traditions makes the film almost timeless. Ensuring most generations will be able to get something from watching it.

What did I not like?

But there are a few things that let the film down. There are a few weird editing choices throughout the film where the focus will instantly shift to another point of focus instead of giving a payoff to what came before. This is particularly noticeable in the finale which, although it gets a point across, does feel somewhat out of place.

Another problem is that despite the film using its narrative in an interesting way, the beats of the plot are still very familiar to anyone who has seen a passing-on-the-curse movie. And there are very few surprises to freshen up the formula. Which may put off some audiences.

Finally, while the film provides positive female representation with its characters, the film does occasionally feel very leery. With long shots of the female characters in their underwear, swimwear and revealing clothes. While both a staple of the genre and somewhat justified by the theme of body image, it is telling that we never get similar shots for the male characters. And this can leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouth, especially with everything the film does to paint its women positively.

Verdict

Despite a few hiccups in editing, a familiar story and tending to slightly leer at its female characters, It Follows remains a great example of how to do modern horror right.

It gives us time to get to know the leads, who are all relatable and down to earth. While focusing on building tension rather than using jump scares, which the film does through interesting uses of music, camera movement and actor direction; It Follows celebrates the horrors of the past while updating some tropes to tell a modern story.

It Follows follows in the tradition of Carpenter and gives us a modern retro gem, that I can see audiences enjoying for years to come. Check it out and judge for yourselves.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It Follows is available for free on BBC Iplayer for the next 2 months

It Follows (Trailer)

Also Read: How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror.

Reviews

Retro Review: Halloween (1978)

November 1, 2018

With the new film already hailing a triumphant return for the series at the box office, on this most spooky of weeks, it is time to look back at the original film that started it all. A film hailed by many to be the grandfather of the slasher genre and one of the scariest films of all time. But after all the sequels, reboots, rip-offs and increasingly violent films that came after it, how does the original Halloween hold up?

The story

On Halloween night, 1963, in the small town of Haddonfield, a young boy named Michael Myers murders his sister, Judith Myers for seemingly no reason. Michael then spends the next fifteen years locked up in Smiths Grove Sanatorium under the eye of doctor Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence). But on one fateful night, Michael escapes and returns to his hometown. He then begins stalking teenage babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends. With Dr. Loomis hot on his trail, will the girls be able to survive Michael’s onslaught? And more frighteningly, can Michael actually be stopped?

What did I like?

I have an odd history with the original Halloween. When I first saw it, I dismissed it because it seemed like every other slasher movie. Over the years, however, I now appreciate what the original Halloween is. A stripped down, supremely suspenseful horror classic.

Halloween does not need gory kills to set its audience on edge. Because Halloween effectively generates a thick atmosphere of creeping, unknown dread. There are several factors for why it is able to build this so successfully. Chief amongst them being the films iconic killer.

Michael Myers is terrifying in Halloween because there is no rhyme or reason to his actions. The opening revelation that he was only a child when killed his older sister, is truly haunting. Especially since he shows no remorse or comprehension of what he did. He then stalks and murders the high school friends simply because he can. Tapping into our fear of the unknown. This is helped by other various touches. For example, Michael’s mask is a blank, expressionless parody of a human face (a white painted William Shatner mask) that is troubling because of its indifference to the slaughter Michael commits. And there are things about him that never sync with reality. His average build and almost superhuman strength, as well as his undying nature and his ability to disappear at will, transforms Michael into a nightmarishly surreal figure. And he has terrified generations of moviegoers ever since.

The performances are another way the movie evokes a feeling of dread. Donald Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis is one of cinemas greatest harbingers of doom. Despite hardly interacting with Myers during the movie, he instils a sense of fear in the audience for how calmly assured he is of Michaels evil nature. He knows what Michael is capable of and that he is the only one who can stop him. Jamie Lee Curtis also makes her film debut as one of the horror genres most fondly remembered final girls. Curtis plays Laurie with humility and innocence that makes her easy to root for. And all the other performers, despite some occasional cheesiness, come across as likeable, everyday people. Making it all the more tragic when the bogeyman rips through their lives.

Lastly, the films production elements help to elevate the unease. The film had a shoestring budget and could not afford lavish location work and set design. So, the film was forced to economize. Thus, the set design is minimal and the action confined to a handful of locations. Making the audience feel a sense of claustrophobia and helping the setting feel more intimate than the overblown nature of many of its higher budgeted counterparts. John Carpenters score and directing are also excellent at building tension. The simple but effective score gives Michael a great sense of presence and constantly sets the audience on edge. And the way Carpenter builds suspense through having Michael in the background of shots without lingering on him is masterful. It puts the audience one step ahead of the characters and makes the scenes where the shape slowly creeps towards his prey nail-bitingly taut.

What I do not like?

While Halloween is a classic, there are aspects that will not satisfy everyone. The films loose connection with reality regarding Michael works. It makes him more unpredictable and the characters feel more vulnerable. But some of the characters actions also have a loose connection with reality and can remove the audience, momentarily from the experience. For example, during the finale when Laurie drops Michaels knife right next to him, it seems like a leap of logic. Especially, as she is still not sure if Michael is actually dead.

The plot can also feel a bit meandering at times. The teen’s story is necessary thematically and Loomis’ scenes are always effective. But at times the plot leans too hard on the teenager’s story to engage the audience. Which can be a problem if you don’t find the teenagers and their dated slang interesting. And as a result, Loomis does not directly affect the plot aside from at the beginning and end of the film. Making Loomis seem like an afterthought.

Finally, while the score is iconic, it does become a crutch after a while. Often during the films second act, the score will dramatically increase to ensure that the audience knows that Michael is still around. And to make sure they have not lost interest. Which feels very cheap. A little goes a long way after all.

Bottom Line

Despite my minor misgivings, the original Halloween is nothing short of a classic and a testament to what can be done on a low budget. The combination of a great production crew, fantastic performances, and a scary villain helped Halloween become one of the most profitable horror films ever made. And while the sequels, remakes and slasher derivatives may have weakened it in the eyes of general viewers over the years, Halloween is essential viewing. Especially around this time of year. Because on Halloween, everyone is entitled to one good scare.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)