Browsing Tag

short cuts

Posted on December 21, 2017

Misreading Othello in the new Thriller, Dismissed


Dismissed (2017) is an interesting film for anyone who is involved in education. Anyone else might find its central story of a psychopathic teen, Lucas Ward, played chillingly by Dylan Sprouse, a bit flimsy. Would a kid really be driven to rather absurd sadistic machinations and even to murder because his English teacher, David Butler (Kent Osborne), gives him a B+ on his paper? (Admittedly Butler later changes Lucas’s grade to an F after Lucas threatens him and calls him out on the fact that he got his degree from Iowa State rather than an Ivy League university. But still . . . ) Directed by Benjamin Arfmann and written by Brian McAuley, Dismissed is a rather lackluster and contrived entry in the psychopathic stalker subgenre. I personally found it enjoyable, though, and not only because I happened to be watching this story of a student who flips out over a grade during grading period at the end of a semester.

Dismissed has something that you almost never see in film: a scene in which two characters engage in a close reading of a literary text. Some of you may now be having unpleasant flashbacks to your last English class, but stay with me. This really is an interesting scene. (It begins at about 25 minutes into the film.)

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Posted on April 7, 2017

Chopping Wood in The Witch and The Amityville Horror


Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) is a horror film, to be sure, although most critics have tended not to treat it as a genre film, focusing on its impressive innovations in production, narrative, and cinematography.

Every time I’ve watched the film, though, I’ve been struck by the scenes of Ralph Ineson’s William, the Puritan patriarch, furiously chopping wood. He does so three times (that magic number) and each time he is more disturbed. These scenes stand out not only because lumber is pretty much the only thing the struggling family has in abundance but also because it strikingly evokes The Amityville Horror, both the 1979 original (Stuart Rosenberg) and the 2005 remake (Andrew Douglas).

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Posted on August 23, 2016

Short Cut: You’re Next (2011)


Director Adam Wingard’s most high-profile project to date, Blair Witch, the sequel to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 The Blair Witch Project, is due to arrive in theaters on September 16—and so I wanted to take a closer look at Wingard’s earlier films. He is, I think, a director to watch, and horror fans aren’t the only ones who should be watching.

My post today is on You’re Next, released in August 2011. It is a wonderful foray into the home invasion film, with a little slasher plus Home Alone thrown into the mix. Everything works in this film—the direction, the cinematography, the screenplay by Simon Barrett, the pacing, the acting (especially Sharni Vinson, who is brilliant as the surprising Erin).

What’s great about You’re Next, in fact, is that it is consistently surprising. I’m not going to give it away entirely but I do want to make the point that the invaders are not who and what you might think they are. You’re Next offers us what seem like conventional bad guys, clearly demarcated by the masks they wear. The preview plays up the film’s structuring dichotomy between the perfect family within the luxurious home and the masked marauders prowling outside, attacking from beyond the mansion’s sheltering walls. Here’s the preview if you haven’t seen it: Read more

Posted on May 2, 2016

Echoes of Horror: Short Cut


Earlier this week I was asked to create a twenty minute training presentation as part of a job interview. In their gross misstep, I was encouraged to train the team on “anything”. It was mentioned that previous candidates had done trainings on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or even how to do the perfect round house kick. Bouncing between ideas of how to cast spells from Harry Potter and teaching the team how to count and sex horseshoe crabs, (if you had any doubt about my nerd credentials, I believe this confirms it) I opted to go with a power point presentation on “How To Survive an 80s Horror Film”.

While working on the presentation, I found myself thinking about the ways that horror permeates broader culture. It is a well-known fact that there have been several horror comedy films and spoofs such as the Scary Movie franchise. But that is too obvious. Likewise, hip hop has borrowed elements of horror for emphasis within rap lyrics.[i]  I looked back on my many nights watching USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear and I immediately thought about the film Summer School (1987).  For all you fans of Agent Gibbs on NCIS, this film is worth a look. More important to this brief analysis, are the characters of Chainsaw (Cameron) and Dave (Riley).

Chainsaw and Dave are presented as a little left of center at first. In an attempt to impress a beautiful foreign exchange student, they put on a display that involves lots of fake blood and some vicious bunnies. Only to be met with the source of their inspiration, Anna-Maria (Udenio) saying, “It’s disgusting…I love it!” These guys don’t fit the mold, none of the kids in Summer School do, not even the teacher. They might love prosthetic limbs, gore, and outlandish attire, but they are really good kids. More prominently, Chainsaw and Dave are able to turn negative labels on their ear by challenging the principal’s assessment of the kids as “psychopaths”. Read more

Posted on April 27, 2016

Shutter Island, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, and H.P. Lovecraft


The central point of debate about Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010), as well as the 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, is whether the main character (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) is insane or not. Is he Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal who has uncovered a terrifying conspiracy involving experiments on patients at Ashecliffe Hospital? Or is he Andrew Laeddis, a man suffering from a profound delusion that he is a US Marshal because he is unable to confront the truth that two years ago he murdered his wife after she drowned their three children?

I think you can make a convincing argument for both interpretations—part of the brilliance of both novel and film. Here, I just want to point out one specific moment in the film, one that resonates with a classic horror film and that may (or may not) help tip the scales.

Two-thirds of the way through Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels/Andrew Laeddis is in Ward C, where the most violent prisoners are kept, and he hears someone call out “Laeddis.” Moving toward the voice, he repeatedly lights matches in the darkness, trying desperately to “see” (in all kinds of ways). In the frame above, he has arrived at the cell of George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley)—a man at the very heart of either Andrew Laeddis’s delusion or Teddy Daniels’s conspiracy. We have a shot of Teddy/Andrew’s face, match lit, looking, and then we have the shot below of Noyce, curled up, features indistinguishable. As the two men talk, we’re not sure what Teddy/Andrew learns. Does he learn that the conspiracy exists (that Noyce has been drugged and experimented on by the doctors at Shutter Island)? Or does he find evidence that he (Andrew) has brutally beaten Noyce for confronting him with the truth that he murdered his wife? The frail flame of the match, the darkness, Teddy/Andrew’s confused and horrified expression, Noyce’s indistinct features, and the ambiguity of their words all render the scene fundamentally indeterminate. Read more

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