My last post here was about Jupiter Ascending, a movie with more movie per movie than any movie before it. There was so much stuff crammed into it, you’d think that the Wachowskis siphoned the plot out from another movie to feed their beast. Having just seen Only God Forgives, I think I found the movie they took from.
I don’t mean to say that Jupiter Ascending and Only God Forgives are similar in any way shape or form. They are both movies starring actors. That’s about where the similarities end. I meant that Only God Forgives seems to have so little going on in it, Jupiter Ascending must have stolen the essence of things happening right out of the movie. This metaphor worked a lot better in my head.
Only God Forgives is Nicolas Winding Refn’s (every pretentious first year film student’s favorite director) follow up to his critically acclaimed film Drive. When Ryan Gosling and Refn teamed up for Drive, they pretty much took the movie world over for a brief period of time, and when they announced they’d be working together again on another film, they hype train was rolling ahead at full speed.
Only God Forgives is an arthouse revenge thriller about Julian (Gosling), a man who owns a Muy Thai boxing club in Bangkok which acts as a front for his family’s drug operations. His brother, Billy has been recently murdered after raping and killing a teenage girl, and when the family’s mother and matriarch of the gang, Crystal, shows up she sends Julian out to find out who killed Billy and exact revenge upon them.
Not too long ago I dipped my toes into the New French Extremity movement by watching the home invasion gorefest, À L’interieur. Seeing how Shudder has given me access to the big three French Extremity films, I decided to check out one of the ones that blew the door wide open for films like À L’interieur and Martyrs to enter horror’s filmography, Alexandre Aja’s twisted slasher: Haute Tension.
Haute Tension (High Tension in English, and sometimes known as Switchblade Romance) is the second full length film by Alexandre Aja who is best known for directing the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes. It stars a tomboyish Cécil de France and Maïwenn Le Besco as the punk rocker Marie and the preppy Alex, two college girls who are retreating to Alex’s family’s country home to study for their upcoming exams. Horror movie does and horror movies do, and their peaceful, quiet time away from civilization turns into a Hellish nightmare.
A mysterious man invades Alex’s family’s home, systematically slaughtering them before kidnapping Alex and driving off with her chained up in the back of his rusted truck. Marie stows away in the back of the vehicle and it’s up to her to figure out how to get her and her friend away from the killer and off to safety.
I’ve mentioned before how I work as a video store clerk, and any movie store worth it’s salt is sure to have a decently sized Criterion section. We’re lucky enough to have a sister section in our Criterion shelf dedicated to Arrow Video, a company that behaves like Criterion except they specialize in horror, sci-fi, exploitation, and cult films rather than pieces of high art. For example, films like Microwave Massacre, Society, and the entirety of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ catalogue of the macabre are available. Naturally, these films have flashy, explicit covers to grab your attention in any way possible, but out of all of them, I was drawn to a box set with a rather restrained and elegant cover. This turned out to be the Female Prisoner Scorpion Collection, a series of movies I knew nothing about at the time but after some quick Google-Fu, they shot right to the top of my to-watch list.
The Female Prisoner Scorpion films follow Nami Matsushima a.k.a Matsu the Scorpion (Meiko Kaji, later famous for Lady Snowblood), a convict in a Japanese all-women’s prison who was incarcerated for assaulting a police officer. Matsu fell in love with a narcotics officer named Sugimi who convinced her to work with him on a sting operation. Sugimi let the Yakuza catch Matsu, and let them have their way with her before using her rape as a distraction to help make his drug bust. Left bloodied, broken, and bruised, Matsu became hellbent on getting her revenge on Sugimi, and after a failed murder attempt against her former lover, she was locked away behind bars. Her hatred burns so deep however, that she’ll take any opportunity she can to escape prison, find Sugimi, and pay him back for the torture and pain she went through when he betrayed her.
2016 was a big year for horror movies about people being held in one location against their will. Green Room, Hush, and 10 Cloverfield Lane all featured our protagonists caught in a pickle, stuck in a room or house trying to escape. I’m always interested in one-location films because I love to see how the filmmakers work around only having one type of location available to film in. It’s harder to make your movies more engaging when you can only work with a bunch of dingy rooms in an old house, so when they pull it off it elevates the film to something a little more special for me. When I heard that Fede Alvarez (director of the 2013 Evil Dead remake, which I love) was going to be making another horror film set mostly in one house, I was totally sold.
Don’t Breathe is Alvarez’s second full length film, and sees him pairing up with Jane Levy again as his leading lady. Levy played the drug-addled Mia in Evil Dead, and returns in Don’t Breathe as Rocky, a young woman in a broken family trying to escape her shitty life in Detroit with her younger sister. Rocky, her boyfriend Money (played by Daniel Zovatto who was Greg from It Follows, and yes, Money is the character’s real name) and her friend Alex played by Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps, Prisoners) break into houses and sell off whatever valuables they can steal to get by. Alex’s father works for a home security alarm company, and Alex takes advantage of his knowledge of the security systems to help their burglaries go off with out a hitch. After finding out that a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) came into a large amount of money after his daughter was killed in a car accident, our intrepid band of deplorables set their sights on his house for what could be the last heist they’ll ever need to pull.
Action movies were the first genre of movies that really captured my imagination. When I was a wee lad, explosions, gunfire, and karate chops were the quickest ways for a movie to make it’s way into my heart. Regardless of the quality of the action, let alone the rest of the movie, if there was action to be had I would eat it up. Now that I’m a little older and a lot grumpier, action movies have to earn their respect from me. I’m a lot more critical of movies than in my youth, and shit like Tak-three-n doesn’t fly with me anymore. While I still like to think I have a childlike enamoring to big explosions and loud, dumb action in movies, the execution of these juvenile films is of equal importance to me now.
Hard Boiled is a Hong Kong action flick written and directed by the legendary John Woo (The Killer, Hard Target, Mission: Impossible II, Face/Off) starring Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and Tony Leung (Hero). Hard Boiled is widely considered one of the greatest action movies of all time, even being inducted into the Criterion Collection because a movie where Chow Yun-Fat soars through the air blowing up a thug on a dirt bike with a well placed shotgun blast is considered to be at the same level of cinematic brilliance that Bergman’s The Seventh Seal or Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai are.
Hard Boiled follows Inspector Tequila (yes, really) played by Yun-Fat, a gritty cop from the streets tasked with taking down a local gang of Triads. Tequila is ruthless and unorthodox in his policing, butting heads with his chief whenever he’s out on a mission. Along the way, he runs into Alan (Leung), another cop who has been deep under cover with the Triads, slowly moving his way up the ranks. Together, they team up to investigate the Triad gun smuggling operation in Hong Kong. Tequila wants the Triads dead, but Alan needs to keep his cover so that he can bring them down from the inside. Tensions rise between the police and the Triads, and many, many, many bullets are exchanged along the way.