Jauja (2014, Lisandro Alonso)

A Danish engineer (Viggo Mortensen) and his teen daughter Ingeborg are in 1880’s Argentina. The locals spread rumors about Zuluaga, a savage desert killer with supernatural powers. Ingeborg runs off with young soldier Corto, Viggo gives chase and finds Corto has been killed. Now he seeks to rescue his daughter from Zuluaga.

Whaaaat that sky:

Sounds like a fine Western, but this is one unusual and beautiful movie. Picture is windowboxed with rounded corners, and the colors are extremely vivid (I think blues or greens were boosted), shot by Kaurismaki’s DP Timo Salminen. The story moves slowly when it moves at all, but the film isn’t its story – it’s more a moving postcard of a barely understood past.

Viggo is injured, his gun and horse stolen, and continues on foot armed with his sword. A dog leads him up a mountain (“what a shit country,” he complains of the rocky ascent) to a cave inhabited by a woman (Ghita Norby, narrator of Babette’s Feast) who may be his daughter many years older.

Cave Woman:

Young Ingeborg wakes up in a massive house in modern-day Denmark, is told by a guy in the yard that her dad’s out, and her dogs are developing nervous rashes because she leaves them alone for so long. Then a shot of sea lions on the rocks of Argentina.

Future Ingeborg:

Viggo also made an Albert Camus movie last year, is clearly in a different headspace these days than during his Lord of the Rings and David Cronenberg eras. Ingeborg’s parents are actors, both on Borgen and The Killing.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

Needless to say, [the ending] turns the entire film upside down, in an even more radical way than the original last scene from La Libertad, where Misael laughs with the film crew and the whole ethnological dispositif is erased, revealing the entire enterprise as only a film with an actor, as artificial as any other film (perhaps more artificial, in fact). That scene, however, isn’t in the final cut of the film: it was edited out under pressure from Cannes, who requested its removal as a condition to program the film in Un Certain Regard. Thirteen years later, Alonso—whose films have always screened in Cannes, but never in the Competition—was able to retain his intended ending for Jauja, though once again there was pressure from the festival to remove it. Cannes, like many major festivals, prefers to screen films where content and style are clear, distinguishable, uniform, rather than deal with a film where not even the filmmaker knows what exactly is going on. And Alonso is one of those few filmmakers—I can only think of Kiarostami or Monte Hellman as other examples—who understand cinema as the sole medium where there’s no real divide between true and false, dream and reality, film and filmmaking.

I haven’t read all the articles online, but it looks like this was rapturously received by my favorite critics back in March. Won a prize at Cannes, too.

Viggo with Lt. Pittaluga


In the beginning, it was a little bit linear but then after the girl disappeared … the film breaks itself a little bit and starts to have distortions in time, space, and reality. I mean, there’s no way to keep on in the film after he realizes that he’s not going to see the girl again. He has no horse, and he has not even a hat to protect him from the sun. He’s a man in a desert, and he loses all that he has, his daughter.

A. Martin:

Ingeborg speaks of her desire to own a dog – one that will follow her everywhere, that will live only for her. And what does Dinesen become, 30 minutes into the film, but precisely that, abandoning his mission in a heartbeat and blindly following her every trace … Alonso takes Jauja more in the direction of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, or Miguel Gomes’s celebrated Tabu – a type of cinema in which the materiality of landscapes and political histories is melded with the magical, transformative elements of fairytale and myth.

B. Ebiri: “Alonso has a lot on his mind, but he’s interested in casting a spell more than sending a message, in texture, sound, and image more than narrative.”

Alonso again:

We composed the film in 1.85:1, which is more panoramic, a little bit more modern. But then, when I asked for the transfer from the lab, I just asked them to give me a full frame, and I started editing in 4:3 … I was thinking that if I go with a more ’scope film, people maybe would get the wrong idea about Viggo, the swords, and the horse, and they’ll look more for action. Is he going to kill the Indians? And that is not the film. So if I put it in an old frame, they will start seeing the film another way, not waiting for more action. It’s a better perspective to have.

Funny, that’s the opposite of what Serra did with Story of My Death, shooting 4:3 then reframing in ‘scope.

Zuluaga in Jauja:

Zuluaga in Letter for Serra:

Alonso is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50 – a quest I’d put on the back burner, then considered abandoning after suffering through Story of My Death this summer. Serra came to mind while watching Jauja, and probably not coincidentally, the two filmmakers know each other, and I’ve found an hour-long 2008 discussion between the two of them. Serra seems more lively and interesting than his films do. Alonso on the difficulty of creating a film: “Perhaps the scene in question was easy to film … the difficult thing is putting one shot after another and adding sound and creating an atmosphere around it.” Serra is focused on Honor de Cavalleria, Alonso on his “Lonely Men Trilogy” of La Libertad, Los Muertos and Liverpool. I abandoned the interview after a half hour and watched something else: there was a 2011 project called Correspondences where filmmakers made video “letters” to each other, and Alonso and Serra participated. Skipping Serra’s section for now because it’s two and a half hours long.

Letter for Serra (2011)

Long takes, just a few shots in 20+ minutes. Among tall grasses and twisted trees, we follow a nervous rifleman taking a shot in the woods. Then an axe man walking with his dogs. We watch the dogs in the woods, then a narrator takes out some notes and tells the story of the axe man Zuluaga – a backstory for Jauja, it would seem.

Let Us Prey (2014, Brian O’Malley)

A Shocktober Postscript Screening, since I found out this was available on netflix at the start of November and couldn’t wait until next season to watch. Kidnapping survivor Pollyanna McIntosh (the woman in The Woman) arrives at her new job at a small-town police station, collaring a reckless driver on the way in (no direct Hot Fuzz references I could detect, sadly). She’s in for a rough night. Turns out the driver, the arriving doctor, everyone in the cells, all her fellow cops, and the Flying Irishman of her crow-feathered dreams are all murderers.

Or maybe the unnamed Irishman (named Six for his cell number) isn’t directly a murderer but a witness, but he appears to be the one orchestrating the night of mayhem by bringing all these people together, along with new witness Pollyanna, who accepts the chance to join him at the end. Snappy dialogue throughout, cowritten by my favorite film writer (David Cairns of Natan) and Fiona Watson, who intended a different title (Cell 6) and ending. The movie looks wonderful, one of those small-scale confined-space stories that still manages to be stylishly and inventively shot (see also: Pontypool) and I dig the trendy use of a strong synth score. Nobody has written about this movie yet without saying it’s indebted to John Carpenter, and I won’t be the first.

It’s not just the Sarge who’s crazy, but the crossword writers. Check out yesterday’s solution, including SADISM, PLAGUE, SUCCUMB, ROUGHLY:

At first I thought the Flying Irishman was an evil hypnotist (see: Stuart Gordon’s Eater), but once it’s revealed that every character (except Pollyanna and possibly the Irishman) is a huge creep or worse, the bloody (and fiery) mayhem becomes more fun than horrific – awful people butchering each other to cover up other murders, or just for the heck of it, or in the sergeant’s case because he fancies himself a biblical destroyer. Sarge is Douglas Russell of the upcoming The Survivalist (Doug prefers his films apocalyptic), the mad doctor is Niall Fulton, a cop in Cry For Bobo, and the Irishman is Liam Cunningham of Wind That Shakes The Barley and Dog Soldiers.

Nosferatu Hand comes after schoolteacher Jon Watson:

The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard)

Sometimes I hear good things about a movie but don’t watch it right away for some reason (in The Guest‘s case, because I hated the director’s previous movie), then a year goes by and I forget the reason and end up watching the movie on netflix, and damned if it isn’t really good. So I guess I like Adam Wingard now. Ti West: your move. Well-paced thriller, and once it starts building, it keeps going higher and higher towards total insanity. When Dan Stevens suspects a waitress might have information on him, he stabs her to death in the middle of her workplace then blows up the restaurant with grenades.

Oh yeah, Dan Stevens, the guy who ruined Downton Abbey to become a movie star, appearing in Julian Assange bios, Adam Sandler fantasies, Ben Stiller sequels and Liam Neeson revenge dramas, finally getting raves from this. He arrives at a family’s house, says he’s a friend of their son who died in the military, and they invite him to stay. He helps out in small ways, mostly by murdering anyone who gets in the family’s way. But the kids with their damned googles become suspicious, track down some info and finally call in the military cops led by Lt. Cedric Daniels, who destroy the house with their firepower but still prove laughably outmatched by Dan and his few pistols.

Finally Dan starts turning on the family to protect his secrets, first mom (Sheila Kelley of Matchstick Men) with a knife, then dad (Leland Orser of that Chris Lambert movie Resurrection) with a car crash, then he follows the kids to – where else? – a school haunted house (just like Lesson of Evil). Bullied youngest (Brendan Meyer of Dinosapien) is protected by It Follows star Maika Monroe (and Daniels, for a while) while fog machines and fire fighter gear obscure their assailant. And speaking of fog machines, this movie continues the recent tradition of blasting 1980’s-style synth music, to great effect.

Also starring Chase Williamson (star of John Dies at the End) as Maika’s pothead boyfriend. I’ve already spoiled You’re Next, the Wingard/Barrett/Swanberg/West/Fessenden/Sheil movie between A Horrible Way To Die and this one, in a Last Ten Minutes installment.

Goodnight Mommy (2014, Fiala & Franz)

Surprisingly violent mother-son(s) horror, like The Babadook meets Fight Club, since early on we guess (correctly) that one of the twin brothers is in the imagination of the other. There’s even a proper Fight Club moment where they take turns hitting each other, but no postscript flashback showing an objective view of one kid hitting himself. It all seemed well-made but not interesting – besides the shock moments, wondering how the kid was going to continue tormenting his mom, and the slow creeping sense that the family has long been seriously disturbed (the kid sinks a dead cat in a fishtank full of water – or is it gasoline? – and mom lets it remain in the living room), I would’ve considered turning it off if I’d been watching at home. Ultimately not bad, giving viewers nasty nightmares of dental torture, superglue-as-weapon, and burns both small and large.

So the twin brother died in a car crash, and I think mom was injured (she starts out the movie with her face bandaged). Dad’s out of the picture. They’re wealthy in a secluded house even though it seems like her job (now on hiatus) was calling out lotto numbers on local TV. Movie was actually called I See, I See in its native Austria, where one of the two directors, Veronika Franz, is an Ulrich Seidl collaborator.

The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.

Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.

Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.

Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.

I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).

Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.

Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.

Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.

I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.

Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.

Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.

Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.

Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.

Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.

P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.

While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.

German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.

Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.

Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.

Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.

Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.

Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.

Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.

Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.

Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

Willow Creek (2013, Bobcat Goldthwait)

Short, found-footage movie where Jim (Bryce Johnson, unsympathetic fiancee in Sleeping Dogs Lie) is a bigfoot obsessive visiting the site of some famous footage, and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore, Robin’s girlfriend in World’s Greatest Dad) is the girlfriend filming and humoring him. In the first half they interview locals and get warned away from the woods, but they forge ahead, and in the second half they’re tormented then killed (after laughably not bringing a map or compass or any way of finding their way out of the woods) by the very bigfoots they hoped to observe.

It sounds very bad, but wait, it’s by the great Bobcat, creator of some of my favorite recent comedies, so surely there’s more going on, some subversive genius to this seemingly dated and pointless movie, or at least a great comic twist? Nope, just the Blair Witch-meets-Grizzly Man premise described above. There’s a kinda great 15-minute shot where they wake up hearing approaching bigfoots (making me imagine the movie’s better with surround sound), and the actors are both committed, but overall it’s a bust.

We Are What We Are (2010, Jorge Michel Grau)

Oh whoops, I thought I heard this was really good, but now I see all C-ratings from criticwire. Maybe I heard that about the gender-reversed remake by the Cold In July guy. Anyway, when a remake is available it’s usually a sure bet to watch the original first, and I thought a Jorge Michael Grau horror would be a nice tie-in with the Jorge Grau horror (no apparent relation) I just watched – a GRAUsome double-feature to go with SCOTtober.

A man dies at the mall, and his family pretty much falls apart, immediately losing their watch-selling business, starting fights and calling attention to themselves. Older Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro, the dad from Here Comes The Devil) is supposed to be the new leader, which violent, impulsive brother Julian resents. Dad used to bring fresh bodies to his cannibal wife and kids, and he apparently never trained the rest of them in the art of not being noticed, so the two boys perform some blatant attacks and end up bringing home a prostitute, but mom doesn’t approve of prostitutes and brings the body back to her vindictive friends. The movie also follows Let Sleeping Corpses Lie‘s lesson that cops are absolutely the worst – corrupt and terrible at their jobs.

A few interesting shots and good performances but mostly the movie is being purposely obscure and no fun, as if actng weird about its cannibal violence can turn it into Dogtooth. Played at Cannes alongside The Silent House, Sound of Noise and Bedevilled. Grau made Ingrown in the first ABCs of Death, has a new agoraphobia thriller called Big Sky.

The Nightmare (2015, Rodney Ascher)

Self-reflexive documentary interviewing a few people who suffer from sleep paralysis, during which they feel like they’re awake but unable to move and being tormented by malevolent entities in their room. Ascher’s movies are always a pleasure to watch – the sound, editing, and reenactment footage are all great here. It includes occasional behind-the-scenes footage – slates, the camera resetting for a creepy move behind a wall, the “entity” actors prepping a shot – as if to remind us that they’re reenactments.

Arguably not a horror movie, but it’s the first movie since Candyman that I’ve been afraid would follow me out of the screen into the real world, since some people begin experiencing sleep paralysis after hearing stories about it. Therefore it is one of the most effective horror movies ever. Also disturbing in the way that it ends – one sufferer finds Jesus and quits having nightmares, the others have some ideas but it seems like their torment is still ongoing.

A. Nayman for Cinema Scope:

[Ascher] suggests that the sorts of visions common to sleep paralysis are actually deeply embedded in the collective subconscious. Exactly how they got there in the first place is a question that The Nightmare doesn’t really try to answer, but its entire M.O. is baldly provocative. Like the haunted TV broadcasts in Ascher’s beloved Halloween III: Season of the Witch or the cursed videotape in The Ring, it’s a film that means to infect its audience with its imagery.

Crimson Peak (2015, Guillermo del Toro)

Can’t figure out why this was made – straightforward haunted-house murder story with predictable twists, feeling at times like a remake of The Devil’s Backbone minus the evocative wartime setting. One character sees ghosts that lead her to the truth behind some murders, ghosts have similar look to the earlier film, phantom blood emanating from cracked-china holes in their translucent faces. But it’s undeniably a beautiful film, sumptuously designed with gorgeous candlelight and shadows and snowy mist, falling leaves, costumes, big creepy crumbling house, and so on. Nice iris-out effects complete the period look. Definitely good to see Guillermo returning to his gothic-horror roots – an enjoyable film to soak in, leaving me satisfied without that post-Martian malaise.

Mia Wasikowska has become a fave of scary/creepy movies (Stoker, The Double), plays a bookish New Yorker with rich dad Jim Beaver (TV’s Deadwood and Supernatural). Incestuous baron siblings Loki (Mia’s Only Lovers Left Alive costar) and Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter, Interstellar) are in town raising funds for their clay-excavation machine. Loki marries Mia and takes her home to England where she discovers he does this a lot, and the bodies/ghosts of his previous rich-girl wives are buried in red clay pools in the basement. Pacific Rim star Charlie Hunnam is Mia’s friend from home who comes to her rescue. Did I mention that Jessica Chastain is an axe murderer? That’s something you don’t expect.