Friday, 21 July 2017

It Comes At Night (2017)

Maybe there is something in the air, but there seems to be no shortage apocalyptic films and TV shows. The trailer for It Comes At Night seems to be selling it as a cross between The Shining and 28 Days Later, but in reality, it is a low key, claustrophobic and highly disturbing look at ordinary people crumbling under extraordinary circumstances.

As a deadly and highly contagious disease has lays waste to the outside world, Paul, his wife Sarah, and their teenage son Travis lock themselves away in their country home. When a stranger breaks into the house, they grudgingly let him and his wife and new born baby stay with them. But have they let also in something more than just the people?

The three leads are thoroughly convincing, both individually and as a family, with Joel Edgerton giving Paul a grim, ruthlessly practical intensity. Kelvin Harrison Jr. excels as Travis, a teenager having to grow up fast and having to see things nobody should have to see.

Director Trey Edward Shults builds an oppressive world, and slowly ramps up the paranoia and tension. Much of the action takes place in the family home, but even when they venture further afield the forest they live in becomes an overbearing oppressive place, where we rarely see the sky or much of the world beyond the woods. In fact, few clues are given to the cause or nature of the outbreak, and the only backstory we get about Paul and his family comes from brief shots of family photos on the walls of their home, a throwback to happier days. That so much is left unexplained does not hinder the film as the focus is on the here and now, rather than how they or the wider world got to where they are.

Brian McOmber's soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment, an unsettling mix of synths, strings, and relentless percussion, which blends well with the heightened sound design.

If anything, It Comes At Night might be a victim of its own success, at least when it comes to recommending it. There is no let up from the grim fight for survival, and even as the characters trying to keep and air of normality and civilisation, there is a feeling that this is only staving off the inevitable, and the thought of the teenager and the baby having to grow up in this world is tragic. This is an intense and brilliantly executed piece of work, but don't expect to come through it feeling good about the world.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Now Voyager (1942)

Now Voyager appeared as part of the first wave of Hollywood's brief love affair with psychoanalysis, along with the likes of Hitchcock's Spellbound. This Freudian undertone sets it apart from standard Hollywood romantic melodramas, and the plot of a person forced to repress their true personality by an overbearing family figure seems to have struck a chord with gay film fans, amongst whom it has a fanbase to this day.

Bette Davis plays Boston heiress Charlotte Vale, a neurotic mess, largely due to her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper). After coming under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Jasquith (Claude Rains), Charlotte reinvents herself, going from frumpy introvert to glamorous woman about town. While on a cruise she meets and fall in love with a married man, Jerry (Paul Henreid). How will her mother react to the newly independent Charlotte? And can she ever find happiness with Jerry?

Drama is based around conflict and there is no shortage of that in this film, with Charlotte clashing with her mother, Charlotte's sister clashing with her mother, her mother clashing with Dr Jasquith, and Charlotte clashing with her feelings for Jerry. What makes the drama seem so fresh is the liberal attitude of Jasquith. He is more interested in Charlotte being happy, rather than have her conform to the stuffy morality of her background, or, indeed, of the wider society of the day, something that makes the appeal to the film's gay fanbase obvious. In addition, the script goes against the grain of contemporary romantic films by not going for an obvious path to true love, and seeming to accept that relationships are often complicated and happiness not always conventional.

There is plenty of fun to be had watching Bette Davis playing against type as the monobrowed dowdy Charlotte we see at the beginning of the film, emerging from her chrysalis into the polar opposite, glamorous, adventurous, and fun loving, not giving a damn for the stifling world of upper middle class Boston and the sense of duty and obligation that comes with it.

Film and psychoanalysis are the around the same age, as the Lumiere brothers started screenings of moving pictures in 1895, the same year that Freud published Studies in Hysteria, his first foray into what would become psychoanalysis. If anything it is the depiction of psychoanalysis itself, or at least the Hollywood version of Freud's work that dates Now Voyager. It portrays the mystery of the human psyche as being like a whodunnit, one that can be unravelled with the aid of the right clues, an approach that now seems a little unsophisticated.