As with many people who love the joys of Orange Wednesdays, me and Ant went to see two films today, and we won't go to see another until next week. We have a projector at home so we'll only go to the cinema for the sheer nostalgia of the environment. Even if, personally, the environment now is nothing more than a shadow of the original style that I miss so very much. Small rooms, no vertigo inducing incline, projection mistakes and often entrance at the back instead of far off in the front, and of course the incessant adverts and radio, these things would not be in the design if I ever got enough money to own a cinema chain. And no coke. And a policy that everyone can bring their own food in if they want. And in shlocky adult films, everyone can bring booze. And in line with that policy, I can keep a picture board of everyone banned because they abused the privelege of said inebriation.
Anyhoo, back to the point. We went to see Attack the Block, which I honestly didn't fancy and went into feeling quite irritated about it. I wanted to drag Ant to Insidious, which I'd already seen and really wanted to chat to Ant about to see if he agreed with me. So I sat there huffing and puffing for the beginning.
Reasons why I didn't fancy it:
1) Nick Frost. No I don't dislike Nick Frost, I love Nick Frost. The joys of Mike leading the dance in Spaced, with some shooting yourself in the head through the mouth motifs thrown in for good measure (which can be seen here: A-Team Dance Off). Fantastic. Mike in Spaced's smile, in general, like, every scene. Mike scratching his face with the barrel of his own gun as he laughs at a joke with the security guard he's taken hostage. Anyone who saw and loved Spaced was set up to love Nick Frost in his appearances in Pegg/Wright collaborations. If Pegg was the cupcake mix and Wright was the oven, Frost would be the icing or cherry or rotating miniature firework you add at the end to make it special.
But sometimes, occasionally, now and again... Nick Frost picks some terrible projects to work on when he works with other people. And I commend that, I do. Trying out other people to work with should be a given, and working with people who are still trying to make it to the big time can be commendable. But that doesn't mean I want to spend money to watch Frost trying out a filmmaker or bunch of filmmakers who haven't found their legs yet. He picks things that end up being rubbish enough that he's sort of like an accidental omen.
Reason 2) Studio Canal, F4 and The Lottery Fund, for some reason whenever I see Lottery Fund listed with certain other companies that on their own often do excellent work, I often see the word safe flash through my mind. And safe often ends up meaning the film will be lame, not really go for it from any angle.
But then again the film is by Joe Cornish, and who is going to argue with that?
So we settled down to watch it, and of course I found Ant's instincts were correct. It is bloody fantastic. And it's one of those films I don't want... no, I don't think there's any need to say anything else about it. Certainly I wouldn't say anything more about it than is in the trailer. But I'll say a few things anyway, and then to Insidious. Obviously Spoilers...
If you watch the Attack The Block trailer and worry that all the rest of scenes, all the rest of the dialogue, absolutely even other minute is devoid of interesting content, no need to worry. All the pieces fit brilliantly together, and there are gentle strokes of genius in several areas of production. Cornish et al decided to do something that I think is very important and that I spend a considerable amount of time pondering regarding my own script. Specifically, they allowed the subtextual message of the film to come out only a little bit and at crucial times. It requires a lot of restraint to focus on the lighthearted, more entertaining stuff instead of refering to your social message enough that only the braindead could miss it. A social message people can choose to see and voluntarily think about as much as they like can often be stronger than punching people in the face with it. For me this is one of the reasons Britain has a weaker film industry than many other countries; in a large part people want to make 'worthy' films, and often won't restrain themselves enough to consider if making your message more subtle and getting at people through entertainment (making the message voluntary for those who like to consider those things) might be better. We often make films people think they should see, not films they want to see many times. It shouldn't be that hard to make films that are satisfying and enjoyable on one level and have other elements of discourse that can be taken away and considered long after the actual watching of the movie, yet many people think the only films to make are the worthy dramas.
Back to the film. The cast are impressive, not least since so many are complete newcomers, which in itself is a marvellous decision, since it mines the so often neglected territory of using unknowns to build a sense of reality, instead of negating it with stars who bring a persona with them regardless of what the characters should be. And then you have the aliens. This is probably my favourite aspect of it. When the aliens get enough screentime for me to do what we all do (by that I mean analyse whether we like the design or not, given that the sensationalist, the exotic, the alien creature is one of the big draws of seeing a film like this) I thought initially I thought they were unimpressive. My brain automatically told me I thought they didn't look perfectly ingrained in the shots, they look a bit unreal, I thought 'the more I see them on screen, the more time I am therefore going to be thinking about them as special effects, and the more percentage of the whole film I'll have to chalk up as time I spent pondering that this is a movie'. But I didn't; I soon realised they look just right to look displaced and alien in a way you can imagine an alien being in reality if such an alien were to exist. And the, ahem, colour choice is a triumph. Big thumbs up for choosing to deconstruct the question of what an alien should look like.
And then, just to make the experience that much more qualitative, I found this. A bit of a bonus as far as I'm concerned.
Personally, this interview is not just cute or qualitative, it's downright smugness inducing. His comments about low budget focusing creativity, and the door being open more for genre films in the UK, and kind of all of it makes me feel happier about some of the stuff we've been planning. More of that next week.
Insidious is another matter. A matter in which I kind of wish there was an alternative universe where Wan was the sort of person who would look at that sort of interview with Cornish and take tips off him.
I should probably say, in a nutshell, I liked the film. I've seen it twice and that is naturally because I think there's a lot of interesting stuff going on with Insidious. Wilson and Byrne are top notch as usual, both in different ways doing some great work not just phoning in the basics required for a supernatural horror plot (shock! horror!! aghast!!!) but more genuine characterisation. Especially Wilson, simply because the dimensions of his narrative arc is more developed than Byrne's.
But it goes wrong. And the irritating thing is, it goes wrong in the most easily fixable, superficial way possible. In fact, the wrongness is so superficial it's tempting to just petition the production and distribution companies involved to implore to just CGI the hell of the crappy parts and make them fit with the rest of the movie. Or shell out just that little bit more money and actually reshoot the scenes that were crappy.
I know that's unthinkable. I haven't gone mad. But you could easily go insane quite quickly thinking about how close this film came to being a classic.
The why is more questionable though. There's a lot of talk out there that the first half of the movie was of such a high standard, so completely brilliant, that it's too hard for the second half to reach those heights. Such comments are of course bullshit; if the same people made both halves why on earth would it be unattainable for both halves to be of the same quality?
No, the real issue is about the project as a whole. The element of sabotage? The visual choices.
As far as I'm concerned that is the problem. It might look like a Jekyll and Hyde made this project, one part of the brain made the effective and resourceful first half, another part of the brain made the confused and shambolic second half. No, the same brain that knew the first half was suspenseful is the same brain that honestly thought all the second half was a great pay off to all that build up.
If the film was made with no money or voluntarily made with a no money ethos in place, they probably would have done the most efficient thing and skipped this problem - the ghosts suck. And the super evil red face Darth Maul character, whether he's a ghost or not he sucks too.
Somebody making this should have stepped in. Somebody making this should have said 'what works best for supernatural horror is the idea of what's in the closet, not what actually is in the closet'. If this was treated as incredibly confusing information, then someone should have come straight out with it - 'those ghostly creatures you've chosen, those ghostly residences you've set up, they suck. And no, don't change them to something just as overly specific, make all that ghost shit more abstract, more periphery, more out of focus. Whatever you have to do, just make it less specific'
That's the problem. The narrative arc with the astral projection and all that shit, that's not the problem. The massive rip of Poltergeist concepts, that's not the problem. Patrick Wilson does a great job making it seem like more than just a guy walking around some terribly ill conceived sets looking at characters you want to just crack with a rock hammer.
They got super lazy with this, and that's the problem. Wan (or whoever you think is also to blame) likes imagery that to most of us is not terrifying precisely because it's so specific it suggests limitations. He hopes that his penchant for those types of visuals will freak us out, but I've been in two screenings and people laugh. The editing is fantastic, so they jump, they gasp. But when they get to focus on his evil characters in their evil rooms, doing their evil movements, people laugh.
If they had tried to be creative with suspense in ways outside their comfort zone, it could have been a classic. There's this scene were they do a sort of seance I guess. The woman leading it wears a gasmask and her cohort wears headphones and repeats what she's saying so Rose and Patrick will know what's going on in the chat with their daughter. The scene is good is some ways, but theoretically it could have been great if a different approach had been used towards the scary parts. This could have become a far more terrifying part if perhaps all the characters had needed to wear masks to take an active part in the process, and they milked the claustrophobia, the reliance on breathing equipment, the possibilities go far and wide. But they opted to let Wan et al run wild with those terribly silly looking designs and suddenly you're not so much scared of the possibly infinite nightmarish possibilities that may lay in wait for the characters, but instead horrified by the unending boredom that must await whoever gets stuck living with those depressing fashion victims.
The film is primed for a Silent Hill/Shining/Poltergeist mash up, and rightfully so. If they had chosen to show practically nothing at all about the real evil following them, every scene would have been the most terrifying thing anyone had seen, since they could fill the empty space with all their biggest fears. And it would have cost less...