Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Long and Visceral Road: The Return of Mad Max

the carsploitation movies that raced out of america during the a.i.p. era during the late sixties and early seventies expressed a sense of liberation and rebellion that were prevalent in the counterculture. pictures such as vanishing point and dirty mary, crazy larry reflected the urge for change and escape from a repressed society that was rapidly becoming ever more claustrophobic, pulsing with paranoia. audiences related to the freedom and carefree attitude of putting the pedal to the metal, hitting the open road and leaving their troubles behind.

meanwhile in the land down under, a dark vision was brewing within the mind of george miller, a medical doctor from sydney, who came face to face with death during his stint in the e.r. these horrific images he witnessed, blended with desperate reactions to the oil crisis of 1973 became the recipe for what would become mad max.

miller's vision of the open road didn't correspond with that of previous exploitations. he traded in the optimistic youth, who went searching for america for the nihilistic nomads ravaging a dystopian australia. there was no sense of hope in miller's vision, only darwinian sensibilities among oil hungry tyrants, who roamed the stark highways on motorcycles terrorising anyone or anything that came across their path.

mad max was definitely an interesting premise and ambitious vision, incorporating social and economic issues into an action packed genre piece, but it was the execution of craft and style that propelled the movie in gaining its massive international success. the visceral kinetic action that miller employed in the film, along with violence bordering on the surreal, generated incredible energy on the screen.

the interesting thing about the mad max trilogy is that the three films vary so much, but the intensity remains the same. the genre evolves nearly as much as max rockatansky does. the original merges elements of a hitchcockian thriller, the road warrior gives a nod to the western with its vehicular cattle drive , while beyond the thunderdome is like a philip k. dick/j.m. barrie molotov cocktail. george miller was constantly trying to create new ways to excite audiences through long, orchestrated action or fight sequences as if he was contemplating how to entertain mobs at the colosseum.

the franchise is notorious for its rapid motion and breathtaking stunts that spawn adrenaline soaked entertainment for audiences. the new installment out this week looks like it will enhance this action to the utmost. mad max: fury road has been a long time in the making, bridging a thirty year gap since its predecessor mad max beyond thunderdome. in an industry that has become reliant on big budget remakes and reboots, where does george miller’s new project fit into the scheme of things?

firstly, the fact that george miller is directing will cause fanboys to utter a sigh of relief. there is comfort in knowing that the mad max universe will be looked over by its mastermind, accompanied by the filmmaker’s skill and style, lifelong fans will feel like they are in good hands. secondly, we must take into account the new audience, who have never seen the previous films nor give two happy feet who george miller is. the new audience is essential to fury road’s prominence, so if they swarm like bees to a hive then we might be seeing a lot more of max.

action movies today are in a current state of cgi saturation, leaving audiences docile and immune to stretching their imagination because it has already been done for them by the stretch of a finger. if fury road raises the bar in spectacular stunts and crushes the box office it might lure audiences away from the formulaic, generic blockbusters of today and leave them thirsty for a true cinematic experience. actions speak louder than words and i've got a sneaky suspicion that george miller's latest escapade will leave many speechless.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

It Follows

Sporting the best movie title of 2015, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows fiddles around with the conventions of late 1970's/ early 1980's slashers and turns them upside down on their head, the old switcharoo: if you haven't had it, you've had it! Not only does the movie deliver in terms of horror, but delves deeper into something more poignant.

Set in a timeless Detroit, void of any parental guidance, Jay (Maika Monroe) is a coming of age teen dating a guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). She is surrounded by her two sisters and an old friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who is hopelessly in love with her. Inevitably, Jay gets frisky with Hugh one night and after the deed is done she is drugged, brought to one of many of Detroit's abandoned buildings and tied to a chair. Her lover lays down the law of the "Thing" that will now follow her relentlessly due to the fact that she had sex with him. He explains to her the ground rules:

-It follows you
-It can take any form
-It doesn't run, but walks step by step slowly
-The only way to pass it on is to have sex with someone else
-Must now let it kill you or it will re-track its steps to those before her.

Gulp...essentially, fuck the pain away. Obviously nobody believes her after this ordeal, but her friends are willing to help her. 

Already Mitchell has scrapped the rule of the virginal heroin, which has been a staple in the slasher genre ever since John Carpenter ended the sexual revolution with his landmark film Halloween. Carpenter's work evidently has a major stylistic influence, visually and sonically. Another clear influence is Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, whose protagonists also had no real parental support and had to work together in order to survive.

Except for two instances, the movie doesn't rely on cheap scares to make the audience jump, rather it creates a sense of foreboding dread and tension, which seldom results in a big scare. This is demonstrated through the brooding soundtrack and magnificent tracking and pan shots. The fun things about It Follows is the manipulation of the audiences expectations of being scared. As Hugh at the beginning of the movie provides the rules of the antagonist, the audience have to shift gears in order to look out and prepare for the jumpy bits. Since the "evil" follows slowly and from any direction, we find ourselves examining every inch of the screen in the dark attempting to spot the follower. It's the Where's Wally of the slasher film. 

Since we are not witnessing big jumps or a bunch of teenagers getting slaughtered every few minutes, we are given time to care for the characters and their relationships, which makes It Follows not one of your run of the mill slasher flicks. We laugh at how pathetic Paul is when he gives Jay those puppy dog eyes and offers to help her with her situation while she's off banging half of Detroit to rid herself of the curse. A few times he insinuates offering his services to help cure her, which is funny at the time, but we later realise there's actually true sincerity underneath the surface. 

The most harrowing part of the movie isn't a Saviniesque blood splatter, but a simple sad scene that brilliantly portrays the subtext of the film. Jay, while on the run from her burden is hiding out at the beach. She notices three men oozing with machismo fist pumping to music on a boat. She removes her clothes and walks into the water slowly with a solemn expression on her face. 

David Robert Mitchell toyed with the conventions of the slasher without a distaste for the genre, but with an admiration and dedication to the form as we can see from his visual style and countless references throughout the movie. He raised all the sexual and gender themes that where buried underneath all the gore to the surface of the plot and has delivered a very interesting horror that will keep audiences alert and inquisitive throughout.