FrightFest Special: David Campion on I Saw the Devil

The Glasgow Film Festival has been invaded by Frightfest – could you ever imagine the London Film Festival including a genre segment in their bill? No, me neither. High props to Glasgow for opening their doors and hearts to the hordes of drooling horror fans, many of whom have travelled not only from England, but Germany and even Australia [somebody must have really wanted to see Little Deaths].

So, first for me is the latest Korean export, I Saw the Devil. Having already screened across the Atlantic, most notably Toronto and Sundance, the film has already earned a lot of buzz from critics and genre fans alike. Despite my high expectations, Kim Ji-Woon managed to surprise me with a whole new level of filmmaking. ISTD combines the clinical attention to detail as seen in Zodiac, the fierce psychological examination of a serial killer as seen in Silence of the Lambs, but injects it with a hyper kinetic quality, not unlike Christopher Nolan at his finest.

Thematically, the film is strong, playing with the concept of revenge and repetition; raising the question of when does revenge become unfulfilling? Kyung-Chul [Choi Min-sik] is a depraved serial killer, with no sense of morality or empathy; in real life this man deserves to be punished, in filmic terms, he deserves to die. However, for our ‘hero’, Soo-Hyun [Lee Byung-hun], death is not enough. Instead, he plants a tracking device into the killer and proceeds to beat him within an inch of his life, before letting him go and repeating the process.

I Saw the Devil not only boasts an engaging script, fine performances, pitch-perfect direction and high drama, but it also delivers on a primal splatter level as well. The deaths are messy and disturbing. There is a moment when Kyung-Chul shares a car ride with two shifty gentlemen. There is an air of Hitchcockian tension, especially as each man looks as dangerous as the other. This tension is broken when Kyung-Chul unleashes his rage, repeatedly stabbing the driver and his accomplice. In all my years of watching horror films, I have never witnessed such fury with a knife.

Much like Oldboy, ISTD has a westernized flavor. Aesthetically, both films evoke the spirit of David Fincher, whilst ISTD also takes a direct cue from No for Country Old Men. In the way Tarantino is happy to pinch bits from European cinema and make it his own, the film wears it influences on its sleeve, confident enough in its own originality. Kim Ji-Woon is friends with Park Chan-Wook [Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Thirst] and Bong Joon-ho [The Host, Mother] and collectively, the trio represent an exciting new wave in Korean filmmaking. All three directors have a knack for taking typical ‘genre’ cinema and elevating it way beyond the norm. This has to do with their impeccable technique and understanding of cinema.  Personally, I’m keeping my eyes on these filmmakers, as I am expecting even greater films to come.

David Campion is the Co – Director of Patrol Men

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FrightFest Special: Ben Simpson on Little Deaths

Every year an English film plays FrightFest and the vast majority are a waste of time. So bad you fear your eyeballs will develop cancer (Dead Cert, Isle of Dogs and 13hrs just to name last year’s crop) and this doesn’t disappoint. Little Deaths is an Anthology piece with three stories that relate to the darker side of sex and death. The first major problem is that only one of these three directors can direct.

First up is House and Home, Sean Hogan’s (writer of Isle of Dogs) feeble attempt. A homeless girl is enticed into a couples’ home. She is bathed and fed and then at the dinner table, the couple poison her wine. The tramp wakes up tied to a bed and the sexual torment begins. The direction and narrative is so painfully dull and lazy that even a cum shot to the face and a golden shower fails to spark any repulsion or anger. Just when you think it can’t get any worse the twist comes a long. At least it can’t get any worse…

Andrew Parkinson’s Mutant Tool wasn’t much better, it manages to make a film about a caged Nazi monster with a huge cock that dribbles out semen into a bucket boring. Instead of focusing on this cum beast we get laborious scenes of what the scientists use the semen for. Hardly getting a peek at the monster feels like such a huge waste of effects. Plus you forget the story almost immediately after it finishes. Andrew Parkinson might as well of filmed the monster masturbating for 20 minutes.

Bitch is a breath of fresh air. Just by the first shot you can tell the director (Simon Rumley) is leagues above the two directors that play before him. A dark tale about domination and fear, Simon gets some powerful performances out of the actors while being both subtle in his storytelling and successful in creating a living environment for them to populate. Bitch has a completely different look to the DV-like quality of the first two films. It is raw and life-like and brings a dark, uncomfortable and cold tone to the film. Ultimately though it’s too late, after the atrocious segments before it nothing could save this car wreck of a film, which is a shame because Simon Rumley’s Red, White and Blue was one of my favorites of 2010. If it wasn’t for the third segment this would have played like a 1st year film students project. Go and watch Trick R’ Treat instead or if you really want to see a new-ish English anthology film go with Cradle of Fear. It’s not that good, but I’d watch it over Little Deaths anytime.

Ben Simpson is the Co – Director of Patrol Men

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Ian Fielding on True Grit: Bravery on Tap

Dino De Laurentiis, the late, great producer of Blue Velvet once said that to be a man you need three things. Heart, brains and balls. In looking at the Coen brother’s new film True Grit, I’ll be focusing on balls.

True Grit. The background is spiritual pollution, the bloodthirsty acquisition of the west. The book is Charles Portis’ classic take on the western novel. The characters are the tough and weather-bruised products of their environment. They meet death with equanimity, resort to brutality with laissez-faire matter-of-factness and treat each other as straw dogs, with little more than money, justice and the need to survive binding them together.

The film contains stirring feats of heroism, which serve as the flags to the measure of its character’s constitutions.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), the astonishing 14 year old Presbyterian with a smart mouth and steady nerve is a monster of progress and logic who is driven by a powerfully centered emotional force – the need to exact retribution upon the man who killed her father.

The moment when Mattie frees herself from the keeper of the river ferry and crosses the water on a swimming horse amazes and charms us with her spontaneous resourcefulness. Bravery is not trait-like, it only emerges in special circumstances like this.

J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), cranky, robust and raw, is a true veteran of the plains, corrupt, forgetful and above the law. There’s a sense of old school masculinity in the way he lets his soul play out, it’s like Johnny Cash’s voice, timeless and forged in the fire of primal humanity, as fixed as the North Star and attached profoundly to the earth. This is not a man of wit and stealth but a man of straight talking simplicity, clear means and closely guarded pride.

Cogburn turns on the physical courage when he rides fearlessly into a gang of four outlaws, facing them head-on, reins in mouth and two pistols blazing, facing the fray in confidence. Though elsewhere (especially in Mattie’s eyes) he is shadowed by vice.

Psychological bravery means acting against our natural inclinations and facing fears which may not have any social  implications. This includes overcoming personal addicting habits, irrational anxieties and harmful dependent relationships. So as Cogburn turns to drink, he looses his bottle and the film throws its own quiet anti-drinking campaign. Mattie loses her faith in him (not in the least because it is a reminder of the circumstances surrounding her father’s death) and Cogburn looses face as he rides onward drunkenly through the day boasting and singing to himself.

Moral Courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. The prime cinematic example is James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces. Who on his death bed, his appointment with the electric hair, acts like a cowardly, sniveling wretch before all the criminal kids who idolise him so that they don’t follow in his footsteps, completely annihilating his reputation in a swoop.

Cagney’s display is the polar opposite to Nietzsche’s vanity bravery: ‘One never dives into the water to save a drowning man more eagerly than when there are others present who dare not take the risk.’ For me, Cagney’s is the greatest act of sacrifice in cinema.

So what is true grit? Is it not a kind of bravery on tap? Pure internal focus and resolve. Like the characters in this film who have it embedded into their bones. A necessary state to get by in a tough universe. A thought that makes Mattie an even more formidable character considering it takes time to build such resolve.

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)

You will be hard pressed to find a film that doesn’t contain a moment of bravery, ranging from the foolhardy to the heroic. Bravery is the key catalyst to progress in life and so it is with film.

My name’s Ian. I’m a writer and Filmmaker from London currently shooting my second feature film – a detective thriller called Dead Unicorns

To see pics, a trailer and what’s currently happening with Dead Unicorns click here:

David Campion on The Fighter: Raging O Russell

It all started on Three Kings. Supposed battles with crew, scrapes with extras, and a blow up with everyone’s favourite liberal, George Clooney; say what you will about David O Russell, but the guy has heart. Speaking of heart, it was his next project, existential comedy I Heart Huckabees, which really sparked debate, when a video leaked of him kicking off at veteran actress, Lilly Tomlin. Both artist’s are obviously having a bad day, Tomlin herself is irritable and stressed, but after remaining silent for some time, O Russell lets spew a volcanic diatribe, resulting in pure YouTube gold.

These heated confrontations seem to be sparked by what makes O Russell special. He works in a loose, semi-improvised manner, giving his work a sense of urgency and spontaneity. However, there seems to be a communication failure somewhere between the great man and his accomplices, and this is his downfall. It’s no mystery why it’s taken six years for his next film, The Fighter, to be released.

Now in his fifties, it would appear the director has calmed down and possibly developed a new work ethic. The evidence of this new ethic is apparent in The Fighter, which is a lean, perfectly staged, exquisitely acted and directed piece of cinema. With a modest budget [somewhere around the $35 million mark], an ensemble cast [including a scenery chewing Christian Bale] and a very tight schedule [33 days]; The Fighter looks and feels like an effortless film.

Taking a very typical, cliché ridden underdog story and trying to inject it with a sense of vitality and importance is no mean feat. In fact, the boxing genre is one of the hardest to excel in, being overshadowed by both the archetypal underdog story, Rocky and the artful triumph, Raging Bull.  These factors, along with long history of the film [four writers, two directors, endless star changes], should point towards cinematic disaster, so why does The Fighter work???

The Fighter is very much an examination, not only of character ambitions and family dynamics, but societal demands. First, the location. Lowell, Massachusetts is the perfect urban setting to raise a fighter, as it proves “livin’ ain’t easy”. The residents of this predominately working class community are vocal in their thoughts and opinions about the characters, giving Micky Ward [Mark Wahlberg] the ‘underdog complex’. He’s passive, which for a boxer, is a pretty useless quality. Now let’s examine the family. Mother Alice Ward has not only produced two fighters, but seven ‘monstrous’ sisters. Seemingly growing up in a grim fairytale, Micky has to deal not only with a firecracker mother, but a former glory, now-turned-addict brother, who still manages to soak up all of the family’s admiration. This lack of love and nurture has obviously had a negative effect on Micky’s confidence, which could be a direct reason for his ‘stepping-stone’ reputation in the ring.

Dicky Ward [Christian Bale] is like a vacuum, demanding all of the attention from almost every character in the film. Interestingly, outside the realms of the film, Christian Bale is doing the same, receiving award nominations across the board and being the cast/crew member most likely to pick up an Oscar. I like to think his performance is in retaliation to The Dark Knight, where Heath Ledger picked up all of the accolades for his supporting turn as The Joker, while Bale had to play it straight. Now in the ‘joker’ role, Bale relishes every moment he is on screen, perfectly playing a waster way beyond his prime.

Amongst all this chaos, O Russell keeps a tight handle over the script, never deviating away from the all important structure. However, unlike more ‘mainstream’ affairs, The Fighter has a sense of truth. The supporting characters aren’t mere obstacle blocks, but living, breathing people. Occasionally flawed, but always likeable, each actor takes the character to a place of familiarity, enabling the audience to not only identify with them, but to emphasise with them as well.

Stylistically, O Russell has always had plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He moves the camera with pace, never restricting the moving shots to dollies, but employing vehicles to give them speed and excitement. However, his genius comes within the ring. Rather than competing with the untouchable Raging Bull, O Russell chooses to shoot the fight scenes using ‘video footage’. He captures the brutality within the ring, but from a perspective everybody is familiar with. Even when it comes to using slow motion he doesn’t sell out by using 35mm for a smooth finish, but allowing the jerkiness of the ‘HBO’ style to shine through. The direction in the film is non fussy and kinetic.

Whatever your opinions are of David O Russell, past or present, you really can’t question his integrity. As a successor of the ‘Sundance Kids’ stable, O Russell has established himself as an auteur. Much like Aronofsky [the once director of The Fighter, now billed as executive producer], O Russell’s next project is distinctly ‘Hollywood’. He is in talks to direct a feature based on the popular video game, Uncharted. So, in two-three years time, will two of the better ‘indie’ artists be battling it out for summer box office? Personally, I’m looking forward to Oscar race between Brett Ratner and Michael Bay.

David Campion is the Co – Director of Patrol Men

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Ian Fielding: Black Swan Revisited, Mum’s the Word

Since I wrote my original review of Black Swan, which you can find through the link below, I’ve developed and modified my position on the film’s secrets and meaning, and I’d like in this article to expand on my reading of the film’s dark subtext. As I stated in my original review, implanting difficult themes below the story surface is fairly standard screenwriting practice within certain genre films.

A quick recap: the film is ostensibly about a delicate, naive and innocent but highly talented ballet dancer who must access an edgier, more domineering and sexual part of her persona in order to successfully embody the role that she has won, that of the black swan, in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

We know Nina is already something on the edge but this challenge precipitates an incredible transformation that initiates delusions, terrifying hallucinations, self harm and eventually leads her to end her life.

So why? Why does the adoption of this role generate such a terrifying psychological upheaval within Nina?

For this role Nina is explicitly requested to interrogate her sexual character, a domain she has repressed from herself for a reason – namely that she is suffering from past and possibly continuing sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her overbearing mother. It is as if the friction of simultaneous belief and denial about what has happened gives rise to these harrowing episodes.

Where is the evidence? Actually throughout the film it is continually dispersed. Firstly, Nina’s character, before her psychological meltdown, displays characteristics of an individual who has been abused, she is isolated, reserved, seems to find it hard to communicate with her fellow dancers, has possible trust issues, assertion issues, self-esteem issues.

Also look at the excessive infantilisation that she is subjected to, the childish bedroom with the stuffed toys, being dressed and undressed by mother. No lock on the door. When her friend Lily shows up at the door she is turned away by Erica, her mother. Infantilisation is a common practice deployed by abusers to forestall the sexual development of their victims.

When the dance choreographer Thomas kisses Nina she responds by biting his lip and then running away, is this deeply unusual act not the symptomatic behavior of the kind of person who has had to learn to defend themselves sexually?

Importantly the parallels between Lilly and Erica are continually made. Could it be that when Nina sees Lily she sees a safe or legitimate outlet for the sexual feelings that have been implanted in her by her mother?

Further hints arrive when Nina attempts to masturbate. Once on her bed and a second time in the bath. In the bedroom, Nina turns during the act to witness the presence of Erica asleep in her room, the presence is physically nonthreatening but deeply unnerving. In the bath the image has become a potential danger, it stares straight into Nina’s eyes, looking like some demonic mixture of Lily, Nina and Erica, as if the lines between these three characters has become blurred. Monstrously, Erica has invaded Nina’s fantasy space.

The key event in Nina’s sex life during the film is the night of her drugged drunken debauches, when she apparently takes Lily back to her apartment after having fucked (as she puts it), two boys in the nightclub. The mother appears, in exactly the same way as Lily appears to Nina in an earlier scene at the dance studio. Erica proceeds to fiercely admonish Nina as if no one else where there, uttering the telling phrase ‘Shut your mouth’ Now Nina runs to her bedroom and sleeps with a woman, and we know that Lily emphatically denies having been there. So who was with Nina? The person who was there clearly utters the phrase, ‘my sweet girl’ before holding a cushion over Nina’s head. This is Erica’s trademark phrase. This is only really the beginning of this series of disturbing clues. There are, echoing through the film, many more reverberations on this theme.

A very common reaction is to brush aside the logic of the picture by diagnosing Nina with schizophrenia and leaving it at that, without considering the origin of our hero’s disturbance. Sadly, and I think in this case, a little uncannily, this pattern all too often repeats itself outside of the cinema, in the real world.

Further evidence of the importance of cinema in mobilising public debate.

Read my original article HERE

My name’s Ian. I’m a writer and Filmmaker from London currently shooting my second feature film – a detective thriller called Dead Unicorns

To see pics, a trailer and what’s currently happening with Dead Unicorns click here:

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Ben Simpson on Angst: Portrait of a Serial Failure

We follow a psychopath as he finishes his term in prison. He has no ambitions in life other than to commit murder and return to jail. He’s been planning this ever since he first went in, four years ago. After a failed and pathetic attempt to kill a taxi driver shortly after his release, our killer quickly exits the car and leaves his master plan behind. Stumbling across a rural mansion, things don’t get any easier as he breaks in and hides, waiting for potential victims. Four years wasn’t enough time for this master plan.

The killer (played by Erwin Leder) speaks his mind, not communicating with the outside world, but talking in voice-over, directly to the audience. This method works perfectly, transporting us into the mind of a deranged and desperate killer. It acts as a running commentary to the real-time flow of the film, adding a different dimension to the piece, heightening the images that plaster the screen.

When the victims return home (an elderly woman, her mentally-retarded wheel-chair bound son and a carer) they look doomed from the outset. They should be easy targets for the killer, but he soon loses any romanticized vision of his killings as he panics and struggles desperately for an empowerment and dominance over his victims that he never achieves. The violence is quick, painful and exhausting. The camera latches on to the characters, never giving in to the quick cuts of modern cinema. What fascinated me most was the victims never cry out for help, they never really look threatened for their lives, just puzzled and waiting for the killer to make his next move as he stacks up his failures. This is a character that has no redeeming qualities and who keeps on getting worse scene by scene.

In this sub genre, especially in Hollywood, the killer will have a certain amount of charisma about him. Erwin Leder looks as if he stumbled straight out of a mental hospital and onto a film set, his gollum like face and darting eyes only add to his frantic performance. A far cry away from the James Dean-esque Henry (Henry: Portrait of a serial killer). The killer in Angst can’t even kill properly.

The greatest achievement is the style. For a film so vile and repugnant thematically, technically it’s a work of art and true beauty. The camera work in this Austrian film is unlike anything I’ve seen from the 80′s. Techniques aren’t used for show but sparingly, creating a fluid pace flowing organically from one scene to the next, which must be credited to director (Gerald Kargl) and Cinematographer (Academy Award Winner Zbigniew Rybczynski). It’s akin to the works of early Darren Aronofsky and Gaspar Noé, pre-dating them by many years.

I find it unbelievable and very sad that this team didn’t go on to do another feature. Who knows what boundaries they could have pushed next if they got another break, it’s better to burn out that fade away I guess. All this with an eerie, brooding, and at times electro score (performed by Klaus Schulze who was briefly in Tangerine Dream who scored the highly underrated ‘Strange Behavior’) makes for essential viewing. Angst will grow in cult status year upon year.

Ben Simpson is the Co – Director of Patrol Men

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Ian Fielding on Never Let Me Go: Lovers not Fighters

Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains, as Rousseau noted at some point when he wasn’t encouraging women to breastfeed. But sometimes the problem is not so much that we are in chains, but that we don’t even realise that we are in them to begin with.

That’s the problem with our trio of heros in Never Let Me Go, the Alex Garland adapted version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 sci-fi novel. In a neat take on the wage slaves of the meaningless capitalist treadmill, our isolated stars are clones, born and bred to provide organs for those who require them to survive. After their first three donations, the majority of clones are dead.

Where does a clone find distraction? In affairs of the heart, with the backdrop of impending mortality amplifying the pitch of feeling. Kathy (Carey Mulligan) loves Tommy (Andrew Garfield) yet Tommy is with Ruth (Keira Knightley). The clinch? We know in an unspoken way that Tommy loves Kathy – but he’s quite happy banging Keira Knightley. (what’s he like eh?) Once that dynamic is established the film suspends itself on the constant knife edge of Kathy’s plaintive yearning. At all times we hear the soft thump of Mulligan’s heart in pain, it’s in there rests the film’s hidden force. I love scenes in films where people react to music and there’s a few nice moments of Kathy listening to the cassette tape ‘Never Let Me Go’ that Tommy has given her. The director Mark Romanek never seeks to deploy genre gimmicks or dazzle us with tour-de-force virtuosity and so steers for us a path of pleasant and subdued ambiance, that arches up gently to the occasional emotive swell.

The clones (a smart, sensitive, Carey Mulligan, territorial pisser Keira Knightley, and the shuffling softy with a burning anger within, Andrew Garfield) never quite rise to challenge the authority that will leave them dead in the gutter, instead they empower it with homespun mythologies. This is a backwards tribute to Hailsham, the bleak boarding school they grew up in, and its effective brainwashing.

Those who’ve seen John Carpenter’s ingenious They Live will know that Hailsham is all around us. The media gently manufacture a universal standpoint for us, and as the clones show, it can be all too easy to lap it up. Especially when the majority of voices that we hear are driven by the secret imperative to score some coins. Never before has the species been so focused on coercing itself to part with money as a central recipe for its life. As we slowly converge into a giant selling tool, the way we understand ourselves becomes increasingly superficial. The choice is yours: kick ass now or sit around and wait for the ‘next communism’ to arrive. It almost makes you want to bring back that ol’ blood-sport fav, religion. Thank god for science, art and Carey Mulligan.

Ishiguro knows of another exit through this gift shop, even as his clones lie back on the operating table while surgeons extract their vital organs, the film’s meaning does not turn towards fighting the power but finding the good and true within their controlled universe. They may have been trapped, but they did have love for a while, and that meant the world to them. Ishiguro fucking loves it.

My name’s Ian. I’m a writer and Filmmaker from London currently shooting my second feature film – a detective thriller called Dead Unicorns

To see pics, a trailer and what’s currently happening with Dead Unicorns click here:

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