Southbound (2015)

Anthology movies are a SHOCKtober tradition – a tradition of uneven movies with at least one entirely bad segment and a hodgepodge of acting. This one’s pretty consistent in tone and instead of a framing story, the episodes transition into each other and even loop back-to-front. Doomed sketches set in a Twilight Zone-ish small-towns-and-wasteland universe, the sort of place a latter-day Hellraiser sequel would be set (the title perhaps a play on Hellbound). It’s also the second movie I’ve seen this month to feature David Yow, so that’s something special.

The Way Out and The Way In (Radio Silence)

The segments get named in the credits. Radio Silence = guys who made one of my favorite V/H/S segments. Blood-spattered Mitch and Jack are fleeing from floating grim-reaper demons, but caught in a time loop. Finally Jack is tired of running and a (really well-designed) monster just tears him apart. Mitch ends up in a hotel…

Siren (Roxanne Benjamin)

Three girls in a rock band leave the hotel and break down, are rescued by a family who turn out to be in a demonic cult. Reference to a fourth band member who died, which seems to be an artificial time-filler, discord-spreader. No need, since Ava and Kim eat the mystery meat at dinner and become possessed by the devil, while Sadie escapes, only to be hit by a car. The director was a producer on the three V/H/S movies, and survivor Fabianne Therese was in John Dies at the End.

The White Tights:

Kensington Twins:

The Accident (David Bruckner)

Bruckner made the V/H/S segment where two dudes bring a large-eyed hellbeast girl home from the bar. I’m starting to sense a connection between this movie and the V/H/S series. This one was my favorite. The guy Lucas who hit Sadie with his car calls 911 and follows their advice, to load her into his car and drive into town looking for help. Panicky Lucas (Mather Zickel, I think he’s one of Jon’s bodyguards on Delocated) finds the town abandoned, loads the girl into the local hospital and continues to follow phone instructions to save her life. He ends up killing her and the voices on the phone laugh at him.

Jailbreak (Patrick Horvath)

Transition via one of the “911 operators” at a pay phone to a forsaken town full of cult symbols where Danny (David Yow!) busts into a bar (named The Trap, ugh) with a gun to rescue his sister Jesse (Omaha’s Tipper Newton), for whom he’s searched for over a decade. But Jesse doesn’t want to leave, and despite his gun everyone here seems more dangerous than Danny. Horvath made no V/H/S episodes, but wrote/directed The Pact 2.

The movie kinda peters out from this segment into the next one, a generic home-invasion scene by masked intruders avenging something or other, killing the parents and tenacious, bat-wielding daughter. As demon-creatures rise from the corpses, the masked killers turn out to be the dudes from the first episode.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour)

T. Robinson for The Dissolve:

Amirpour has said she was inspired in part by the way wearing a chador made her feel like a bat, and that mental image becomes clear in a moment where The Girl leaps, and looks both like she’s spreading her wings and like she’s wearing a superhero’s cape.

That image (and the girl “floating” down sidewalks on a skateboard) and some lovely widescreen cinematography, slow posing and cool rock music are mainly what we’ve got here. Sure there’s a story: Arash’s slick car is repossessed by local drug dealer because of dude’s hopeless drug-addict dad, then when the dealer is murdered by a wandering vampire, Arash finds himself in an unexpected position of power. The story is almost beside the point though, as the movie drifts along on atmosphere and mood – not a horror mood really, but a derivative Jarmusch aloofness which would be more valuable had he not made his own vampire movie the year before.

Matt Lynch:

Doesn’t really do anything else besides be gorgeous, occasionally letting its pieces click together into something thoughtful like the way she finds her moral boundaries blurring as she interacts with different people. It’s funny and beautiful and mostly disorganized and definitely overlong, but as stylish mood pieces go you could do a lot worse.

Amirpour is Iranian but this was shot in California. The local prostitute was Mozhan Marnò (star of The Stoning of Soraya M.), the girl was Sheila Vand of Argo, and Arash just appeared in another Iranian horror film, Under the Shadow.

The Invitation (2015, Karyn Kusama)

I have my doubts that a cult could brainwash people into cleansing their past by inviting their friends over to dinner and murdering them, but I suppose the presence of Zodiac killer John Carroll Lynch as the cult’s representative adds believability. This wasn’t quite the surprise thrill of last year’s Coherence, but it had a couple of great things (and better camerawork). Lead character Will (Logan Marshall-Green, beardy with Keanu-eyes, also of Prometheus and Devil) is nervous and somewhat traumatized to be seeing his ex Eden (Tammy Blanchard of Rabbit Hole) in their former home for the first time since their breakup after their son died, and his back-and-forth between being extremely paranoid and trying to relax provides most of the movie’s tension. He recognizes something feels wrong and essentially predicts the cult-murder but social propriety keeps calming his reactions. And of course I love an apocalyptic ending and this movie (again, however unrealistically) provides one beautifully with a simple image, red lantern lights dotting the surrounding hills.

Watched this after reading an interview with director Kusama and realizing that the trash-heap final version of Aeon Flux wasn’t all her fault. All is now forgiven. Surprisingly the writers of that disaster (also R.I.P.D. and Clash of the Titans) did this one as well. Also in the cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi (Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere) as Will’s new girlfriend, and Michiel Huisman (Treme) as Eden’s party cohost.

Little Men (2016, Ira Sachs)

Low-key, heartfelt story of Brooklyn gentrification ruining family and friendships. This appeared in theaters the same week Neil’s The Brooklyn Wars shipped. Ira Sachs and/or Magnolia Pictures are clearly trying to capitalize on Neil’s movement.

Jake moves into the neighborhood, Tony shows him around, and they become close friends. Jake’s parents are professionals: actor Greg Kinnear and doctor Jennifer Ehle, and have inherited the building where Tony’s mom (Paulina García, Chilean star of Gloria) runs a dress shop. Kinnear’s sister’s part of the inheritance depends on him raising the rent to market levels and forcing the shop out, and the kids are caught in the family crossfire.

B. Ebiri in Vulture:

Jake’s family isn’t exactly rolling in money; dad’s experimental, off-Broadway productions of The Seagull and whatnot don’t pay the bills. This isn’t an entitled family. They are, in their own way, victims of the same forces transforming Leonor’s neighborhood, just a little further up the chain. And for her part, Leonor isn’t above playing a little dirty. “I was more his family than you were,” she tells Jake’s dad, a little too bluntly suggesting that grandpa cared for her more than he did for his own family. Is it the truth, or is that her desperation speaking? Does it matter?

Ehle was my favorite part of Contagion but she’s not given enough room to be delightful here. Fortunately, García is just terrific. Found out from a Brooklyn magazine article: that’s the young actor who played Tony’s real accent – may he never lose it.


I always thought one of them as my Robert Bresson actor, and the other as my Martin Scorsese actor, and I really worked with those ideas in mind. With Theo the job was to let what emerges from the inside appear, to keep him very still. And with Michael it was to let him go free, the improvisational elements are much more within his character in a kind of Joe Pesci kind of way.

J. Romney:

A single cut towards the end shows us that something critical has happened, and that a moment has passed. In an obvious way, the film is about friendship and those certain intense spells in childhood that never quite last; the final scenes, unglossed by any unnecessary narrative commentary, make a poignantly eloquent coda … There’s a certain no-big-deal quality to Little Men and to Sachs’s intentions which is immensely appealing.

The Arbor (2010, Clio Barnard)

Fascinating docu-blend telling the story of late playwright Andrea Dunbar, who lived in a low-income neighborhood. We also see scenes from her plays being performed in the park of this neighborhood in present day. And increasingly the story becomes about Dunbar’s daughter Lorraine, who appears to be following in her mom’s footsteps of hopeless addiction. And all this (except the outdoor performances) is told through actors lipsyncing the words of the real people. Beautifully staged and totally unique movie, though Katy got depressed by the death and drugs and abuse.

Lorraine and Lisa inside a childhood memory:

S. Tobias:

Though the synching is remarkably close to unnoticeable, the style takes some getting used to, mainly because The Arbor isn’t dramatized like films with actors generally are. The scenes are more like eerie tableaux where the “characters” tell their stories straight to the camera, wandering the haunted backdrop of Bradford’s Buttershaw Estate and other settings. This ingenious conceit, borrowed from Robin Soans’ 2000 play on Dunbar, called A State Affair, solves the longstanding problem of documentaries penned in by static talking heads.

N. Rapold in Film Comment:

What’s disorienting are the muted tones of the interviews, which were obviously not originally spoken with the intonation of a dramatic performance. This lends a curious low affect to the recounting of extraordinary incidents, and this disjunction, as well as Barnard’s hyper-immaculate RED photography, are a characteristic of other recent film work by artists such as Steve McQueen and Miranda July. As Lorraine becomes the central focus in the second half of the film, her matter-of-fact, downcast delivery becomes a drumbeat anticipating her inevitable downfall.

Top of the Lake (2013, Jane Campion)

Detective Robin (Elisabeth Moss of Queen of Earth) is visiting her sick mom in the New Zealand small town where she grew up. A 12-year-old girl is discovered to be pregnant then disappears, and Robin takes over the case.

The story sucked me in, and I appreciated the actors, particularly Moss and local drug lord (and missing girl’s dad) Peter Mullan and a too-rarely-seen Holly Hunter as the guru of a makeshift trailer-park of troubled women. I was hoping for a good movie given extra time to deepen and spread out, but it started to feel too television. Each episode develops the main plot a bit more, gives the main character a bit more backstory, and reveals a bit more of the town’s dark secrets. And the big hook at the beginning (pregnant child) and big reveal at the end (child-molesting club run by chief cop), along with Robin’s stories of past abuse and constant present threats and the women’s camp and whatever they’ve been through, all adds an icky air of sexual violence to the show. As the episodes progressed, I started to cynically believe that this isn’t helping anyone, just attempting to give an air of importance to an otherwise standard story, though I suppose the intent was to recognize the sexual violence present, mostly hidden, everywhere. Overall I did like it, the distinct characters in gorgeous settings, but not jonesing for season two.

Bonus subplots: clashes with local law enforcement, occasional stories of the women at the camp, some late revenge on one of Robin’s childhood rapists, a major on/off/again affair with her high school boyfriend (Thomas Wright of The Bridge), adventures of tight-lipped Jamie (Tui’s most trusted friend), threats of incest, a couple of deaths (most horribly Jamie’s) and a late reveal that the drug lord is Robin’s real dad.


Robin’s mom and stepdad:

Cowritten with Gerard Lee (Sweetie) and directed with Garth Davis (Lion). Same cinematographer as True Detective season one – that’s no surprise. I recently saw Peter Mullan as the evil father in Sunset Song – he’s good at being menacing. Local boss cop Al is David Wenham of Public Enemies. Moss won best actress at the golden globes and the show won best cinematography at the emmys, but Behind The Candelabra took best TV movie at both.

Sepinwall liked it:

The character work is rich and devastating, the atmosphere hypnotic, and the overall storytelling so good that even if the mysteries hadn’t been resolved, I wouldn’t have felt like my time was wasted … who done it ultimately isn’t as important as the toll the crime takes on our heroine, and on the community around her.

The Woman (2011, Lucky McKee)

Plot-summary-wise, this movie could have been a total disaster, but the director and cast perfectly nail the tone, a comically heightened satire built on increasingly horrific acts. It’s a sequel to one of those after-dark-to-die-for flicks, Offspring, but this must not be too important since most of the reviews don’t mention it.

A nice family scene:

Parents Chris and Belle have two teens (daddy’s boy, goth girl) and young Darlin’. While out hunting, Chris discovers a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh, who looked very different in Let Us Prey), captures her and chains her into his shed, telling the family that they need to civilize her. “We can not have people running around the woods thinking they’re animals.” This is already an alarming development, as Chris (Sean Bridgers, villain of Room, typecast as a dude who locks women in sheds) goes from kinda-smarmy to kinda-evil, but he’s gradually revealed to be much more evil than suspected. After he incapacitates his wife (Angela Bettis, May herself) and feeds one of daughter Peggy’s teachers to the dogs, Peggy releases The Woman to wreak vengeful havoc.

Mom stands up to Dad for the last time:

The family expresses concern a few times for the “dogs,” one of which is late-revealed to be another hostage woman, mutilated and kept like an animal. Fantastic, table-turning ending as The Woman wanders back towards the woods with the dog-woman and the youngest daughter, and Peggy, with all the men and grown-ups dead, opting to follow along.

I also dug the rock & roll soundtrack. The last Lucky McKee work I saw was his Masters of Horror episode Sick Girl, also starring Bettis. Back then I wrote “fun flick, not bad at all,” which was mighty high praise for the MoH series. Since then I’d forgotten that Sick Girl was about lesbian entomologists – an influence on The Duke of Burgundy?

Life Without Principle (2011, Johnnie To)

I watched this a couple weeks after Office, not knowing they were Johnnie To’s companion pieces on the 2008 financial crisis. This one presents the corrupt business world more harshly – no lavish sets and musical numbers, just greed, theft, disappointment, ruin and murder.

Connie meets Teresa:

An intertwining-destinies movie following a few character threads. Inspector Cheung (Breaking News star Richie Ren) is on the sidelines of the other stories while his girlfriend Connie is buying an apartment. Teresa is a banker who sells high-risk investments to confused old ladies, ends up with a pile of undeposited money when her loanshark client Yuen is murdered in the parking deck. And Panther (Ching Wan Lau, the Mad Detective) works for broke gangsters, runs around collecting money to bail out a buddy until he finds stock trader Lung who has an idea for fast cash. The real estate thing held little drama, the banking part hinged on some mild deceit (the old lady heard the phrase “high risk” a hundred times so you can’t entirely blame the banker) and coincidence, but Panther was fun – I’d watch a sequel that just followed him around some more.

The Club (2015, Pablo Larrain)

Not to be confused with The Clan or The Tribe or The Wolfpack. Movies need better titles.

My first Pablo Larraín movie, and it’s unusual. Not sure what I was expecting, maybe more Matteo Garrone-style. Has a hazy digital look with odd white balance and sometimes grotesque wide lenses, and tells an odd story about a house of recovery/isolation for problem priests.

Father Matías arrives with an exquisite beard, but has been followed there by Sandokan, whom he used to molest as a boy. Sandokan yells in front of the house until Father Matías walks outside and kills himself.

Newcomer Father Matías:

So Father Garcia is sent from the church to investigate, and probably to shut down the house and scatter its residents. The residents seem less concerned with him than with Sandokan, who is still hanging around town, so they stage a crime to pin on him, murdering their own and their neighbors’ racing dogs. Sandokan gets beaten up by an angry mob, and Father Garcia agrees to leave the house alone if they’ll take care of poor Sandokan.

Investigator Father Garcia:

I didn’t get this ending, really, but liked the actors’ beards and the general muddled atmosphere of the thing. Obviously don’t know what to make of Larraín at this point – need to watch more of his work. I thought he was one of our beloved international festival auteurs (his current Jackie is getting raves) until discovering so many negative reviews of this one. Checking online, I see that Sicinski has turned in a four-paragraph review of the other The Club (“a Master Lock for your steering wheel”) which is confusing the Letterboxd commenters.

Nick Pinkerton:

There are doubtless those who will prefer the smoldering indignity of Spotlight, ever so slightly tinctured for flavor with self-recrimination, to the moral murkiness of The Club … Shot by Larraín’s regular cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, The Club is overlaid with a milky haze … it gives the impression of an all-permeating damp fog, a dramatis personae who are half-ghost, and a setting that is somewhere between the Chilean seaside and Purgatory.


Looking up cast, Jaime Vadell must’ve played the oldest priest (nobody, including he, can remember his crimes) because he appeared in Ruiz’s Three Sad Tigers back in the 1960’s. Dog-killing ex-nun Sister Monica was Larraín regular Antonia Zegers, and dog trainer Vidal starred in and cowrote Tony Manero.


Larraín prefers to deal in his films with the low and middle classes, whom he strongly despises. If there’s a common thread running through his cinematographic output, it’s that the problem of contemporary Chilean society is not, as usually assumed, that it suffered a dictatorship for almost 20 years, during which time thousands of citizens were murdered, tortured, and disappeared, all kinds of censorship and repression was exerted, and people couldn’t leave their homes at night because of the curfew. No, for Larraín the true problem is that Chileans deserve their fate because they secretly liked to be humiliated and destroyed by the barbarians, as they thought that they were not strong enough to rebel against them.