I have mixed feelings about I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Again I came to this having read a short interview with Christopher Lloyd and the trailer for the film which really was selling me a very different film. Like anything you’re sold, you want to believe the advert or promotion portrays a positive and accurate spin on what you have bought into. Which was a disturbed teenager who sees a few murders and becomes fascinated by them, and becomes inspired to follow in the serial killers footsteps, were we seeing his victims as the trailer progressed. I was miss-sold this film. Even the small role that Lloyd was supposed to be playing.
Moving on from my initial complaint I need to lay down a few points as to what I received in the full film. I came to this film bringing my thoughts from having recently revisited Shadow of a Doubt (1943) which I can only draw minor comparisons too. Looking at the dark conversations between our disturbed teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) and Max (Raymond Brandstrom). (I’m wondering if the lead characters names inspired by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy) There was a relationship based on the dark murderous content of their conversations. Reminiscent of father Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) which begins as playful, a way to unwind and let the imagination run wild, Which disturbs Josephs daughter Charlie (Teresa Wright) whose very concerned about her Uncle Charlie’s (Joseph Cotten) motives for staying with them. That dynamic is not really developed further than a few scenes at the start of the film. Probably to tell us that John has serial killer tendencies trying to lead a normal teenage life, that’s against the backdrop of all the murders.
The Hitchcock connections don’t stop there, from the trailer we could be looking at a Norman Bates type, the quiet boy next door who doesn’t get out much. Yet this one does, spending his free time helping his mother April (Laura Fraser) at the funeral home. An early joke about the home not going out of business anytime soon, two bodies in a week. We are however allowed to see the start of the embalming process, with a focus on the blood-letting process, it’s not properly explained but filmed with a fascination that stays with you – there’s a small positive to take away from the film. It’s the first time we are given no real explanation of whats going on – that’s the main fault of this film.
Moving away from the master of suspense to look at the John himself, we’re told he has all the makings of a serial killer, so already we are looking to him to potentially kill someone, he likes to hang around with his mum at the family business. His social skills are limited to alienating bullies who find him to be an outsider who they spend very little time on. I see a young man who is deeply troubled yet fascinated with death and human anatomy. Spending so much time with the dead has a turned him into an anti-social loner who is trying to function among his peers. Being presented with a possible future that he’s trying to prevent. Yet the events of the present could easily mold him into a different more dangerous person complete with murderous tendencies which are simmering on the surface.
The murders at first are mysterious, the victims arrive at the funeral home, usually already open and a few organs missing, soon its arms too. John’s fascinated by the freshly delivered corpses, wanting to explore them in more detail. The closest he gets a first to the killer, to understand his methods, exploring them like a child would their food, in short he’s a disturbed guy. However we learn far too early on who the serial killer is – it’s the old guy living across the street – Mr Crowley, but that still doesn’t explain the black oily gloop that can be found at the scenes of the killings. If only we could wait a little longer to discover the killer. It’s the curiosity of John the drives him to keep looking, spotting odd behaviour and following him from a distance to what is grisly end in the snow. Taking us out of straight forward crime thriller into I don;t know what – supernatural bizarre maybe. The killing is over in a flash, like a poorly shot YouTube video, I couldn’t believe my eyes
We go into a the second half of the film to a game of innocent chasing the guilty, trying to catch him out and get him arrested, it’s not as easy as he hopes it would be. A could be killer following a killer in action. The danger of finding and understanding him is too much to pass-up, just as he wants to control and prevent that future happening to himself. It’s like a Luke Skywalker constantly being tempted by Palpatine to join the dark side, yet his humanity and the lighter side of the force sees him resist the temptation.
Admittedly there are moments of real dread, from the imagined death that’s described to John lashing out at his mum. However it’s when he almost crosses the line from his potential to certain future, trying to understand the psychology of a serial killer he tests a theory out that forces emotions that could see him enter a darker part of his life. For a few moments such as this we are given some real thrills, its too far and between to really make it worthwhile. The deaths and danger gets closer to home, then we reach the really weird ending which at first is shocking, we see John taking control, clear headed as we’ve ever seen him. He’s saved his mum but at the cost of revealing the killer and what is actually going on. I’m left scratching my head, wondering what the hell just happened. The final images stay with you, but given no real explanation for them, which is frustrating beyond the fact that the beast inside Crowley has been harvesting organs because he is dying. Nothing more is given, the loose ends aren’t tied up, we’re left with more questions and leaving us with The Spirit in the Sky to play out the film.
There’s some potential in the film, as much as there is for John to go either side of being a serial killer, exploring a future that’s being played out before him. It’s pure temptation, it’s just a shame we see little of that after the reveal, going into hunting him down, trying to understand him, which we don’t get to. It’s frustrating really and little time is given to explore other characters and how they are affected by the murders. I wish more time was given to his friendship with Max which is just 4 short scenes, his only link to the real world – or normality. It’s dark at times, and very flawed trying to be more than it is with so much there to work with. I have to admit that the cast of Lloyd in the villianous role is something I have forgotten he does so well. He’ll be forever associated with Doc Emmett Brown, however he has before and since played the weird and wonderful and the bad-guy so well so long. His height and face have allowed him to to produce some memorable roles, I can safely say this role can be added to the list, its the film that lets him down.
Work in progress – Painting the Town… (2017) part of Summer Art Thread (2017) at LCB Depot, Rutland Street, Leicester, UK. 26/8/17.
I’ve been meaning to revisit Network (1976) partly because it celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, another being that it’s an important film that sometimes becomes overlooked with all the 24 hour sensational news we have today, I wanted to see how this prophesying film has come to reality. As I sat down to watch it I realised much I had forgotten on this dialogue heavy film. I had lost practically all of the first hour, waiting for the “Mad as Hell” speech, which I admittedly did again, but was taken aback by the other scenes and build up to what is ultimately a scene that changes the course of the film and the direction all of the characters are going on.
It’s a very human film, going back you could say to Citizen Kane (1941) the need to be loved, the need for attention is at the heart of the film. It’s not human love or attention that most people strive for here. To be embraced, understood, cared for, listened, ultimately to be wanted and loved by another in the world. This is the cut-throat world of ratings, point share and audience percentages. A very cold world where what your station transmits makes the difference of the image you project to the world. The content that for the fictional station of UBS is becoming too much when it comes to news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) who I forgot how incredible a performance he gives. Where he character begins and ends in the film which is central to the stations rise and fall. Beale is a dead man walking when the film begins, he’s just been fired by his old friend and boss Max Schumacher (William Holden), the two men drown their sorrows before he faces his final weeks at the station. Filling him with a sense of uneasy freedom that we all get when we know that what we do will have none or little consequence that a period in our lives is coming to an end. “I just don’t care, I’m going anyway”. First saying on air that he will commit suicide, a surefire boost to the ratings. That’s before the powers that be begin to pay attention. Sadly this comes after the events that are depicted in Christine (2016) of a TV reporter who actually committed suicide on the air. Dark subject matter that Sidney Lumet can’t help but use to satirize the TV news industry. Satire isn’t a word that really sits well with this film though, it’s too dark, shocking and I didn’t laugh once. Instead I was fascinated and drawn into the insidious world of the media. It’s a precursor to a future that has all but happened today.
When the outbursts start to attract attention, numbers start to go in the right direction which means that Beale stays, just for the sake of more promising ratings. Of course it makes sense to keep on the air what grabs an audience’s attention. However it’s the content of the outbursts which is really concerning. He knows there are troubles in the world. Network was made in an era when Watergate shook the country, and the Vietnam war coming to a bloody and very climatic withdrawal. The country is filled with suspicion and disillusionment, ripe for someone to vent on a platform that can reach a massive audience. The news is the perfect position for such an individual, who is fighting for their professional survival.
It’s at out the halfway mark that really marks a striking change in tone. “Mad as Hell” as I learned came more from an spiritual possession of Beale who is no longer himself, more a vessel to express the insecurities of a nation still coming to terms with the greatest country in the world being turned upside down at home and abroad. History is about to repeat itself in some form or another. Trumps Administration is cracking at the seams and the situation in North Korea could easily end very badly for the planet. Lets hope things don’t get that bad though. Back to the fictional 1976 we see behind the scenes at the offices of UBS in fighting for control of the news. An internal war for control both creatively and financially. Mainly between content director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) and News director Max Schumacher Beale becomes a pawn in a giant game from ratings, as UBS improves financially and in terms of its position – I still get confused with all the media talk. Maybe that’s the point. Its a different world where people don;t really matter, they are disposable if they are not in the best interest of the company.
UBS becomes a network for the lowest common denominator, airing content for shock value alone, which was years ahead of what we have now. Not as extreme but this is a filmic world where anything is possible. Making deals with political extremists for content that is brave and pushing the boundaries, but showing how far they will go, not caring how they influence society politically.
With the introduction of the board of directors and a foreign takeover bid – Arab money. Money that provides Beale with his best material or intervention, preaching to his audience to rally behind him and stop the takeover. Writing to the White House to stop the bid being approved. It’s a prime example of getting carried away with a good thing, it will always bit back. There’s a scene very late on when the chairmen of the board Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) explains how the world works. To him its not based on a community of countries that try to cooperate and live alongside each other. Which we know is a hard task at the best of times. I was first shown the scene outside of the film in a lecture, it didn’t really make sense outside the context of the film. 3rd time around I now understand the speech and it makes more sense, money is how the world functions, countries are just places to deposit it within.
Looking back I can see how much Network correctly predicted, the war of the ratings will never end, pandering to the lowest common denominator will not go away until tastes change. I see a man whose used for the sake of grabbing attention, By the end of the film, he’s no more than a disaster, toxic to them and had to literally be killed off. The scene where the murder is arranged is always shocking, cold and organised so that they all get away with it. The room is filled with people who are soulless, no life outside of the industry, I’m relieved that Schumacher was fired allowing these amoral characters to carry on. I didn’t forget the weird affair between Schumacher and Christensen which was built on drive and passion that turned into a one-sided empty relationship where nothing can survive. Taking the affair on it’s own it shows how two very different people working in the same world are so far apart. One driven by quality, heart and warmth, the other driven by stats, ratings and positions. A montage sums up how little passion there is between them. Network holds up pretty much if you ignore the political extremism, there will always be infighting, pandering to the masses not to the intelligent audience that is craving to learn, not just be herded. The power of media manipulation is rife, we have to choose carefully what is not “Fake News” today. Instead of quality news coverage which I think we’ll never really have from one source. The film has allowed for a whole sub-genre of New room drama’s which mock the media so successfully today.
I just caught Remainder (2015) purely on recommendation from Mark Kermode a film he compared with Synecdoche, New York (2006) another film that caught my imagination in terms of how realities are constructed, both within the film and the theoretical consequences of those constructions. When Tom (Tom Sturridge) suffers brain damage in an awful accident in London, his whole life becomes fragmented. Having to start over again really. Learn to walk, move, to be him again, which is something we never really see, more a version that is after the accident. After a massive payout from the accident he’s in a financial position to try to understand what happened to him. That’s before we see a guy who alienates his brother, his ex and those who just want to help him. Is this him before after the accident, an abrasive guy who just can no longer function normally in society. You would want to steer clear of this guy for a while at least, could it be the brain damage that has altered his personality? None of these questions are really answered.
Instead with a payout (around £8.5 million) he sets about reconstructing a fractured memory. With the money behind him he can start to realise what is going on in his tormented head. Turning to Naz (Arsher Ali) who is quickly hired as his PA, producer and general assistant who takes more than he really has to. A guy who is the conscience of the film – not that you’d really know as he is rather passive unless really needed, You could easily read a sexual relationship of dominator and dominated – Naz being mostly dominated throughout this odd yet rather fascinating film.
I would like to have known how the accident first occurred as we discover it acts as time-loop that would in theory allow the events to unfold infinitely which would allow for a more horrific and disturbing film than what we have. So what do we have when he’s back on his feet. A loner with financial freedom to try and reconstruct his memory, or one specific one, as the clip above begins to really move the plot forward which up until then does drag, as we like Tom are unsure of where things are going, just as much as we are. After the meeting which goes pretty well, we begin to see the perfectionist really breaking out, the control freak who through ear pieces and pure power, his memory starting to resurface. It’s rather odd to see an old lady being told at whim to move forward and then in reverse, to have the sound levels reduced, everything is at his whim. It’s not virtual reality – or is it. It’s a reality that he has constructed to allow him to explore what is or what.
I’m very much reminded of Synecdoche, New York when a theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) construct and direct a whole world. Yet there’s more creative freedom in this controlled environment. He allows his actors to bring their own interpretations of the roles. It’s a collaborative construction, not one that’s dictated. He has the remote control. There’s no delegation here. The similarities lie in the loss of time, it has no meaning here, only to allow us to re-enact what is going on in and now outside of his head. Both are driven for the truth and at great cost to the men. Before long we see him paying actors to play-out a more intimate moment in his flat, is his torturing himself or wanting to understand this moment in his life. He’s deadly serious and shows no or little thought for those who are part of his recreations.
The action moves from the block of flats to a reconstruction of a bank where a robbery took place, Tom’s fascinated to understand what went on there, how it played out. But why, and how is that connected to him. Only a guy he knew – Chris (Jumayn Hunter) whose killed and believed to be linked to the crime. It’s an avenue he must explore, an instinctive urge within him to explore. He doesn’t care what lengths he goes to, he’s almost suicidal in his acts. The robbery becomes the central focus of the film as Tom begins to pay for a full-scale replica of the bank, the street it’s on and the sky above. It’s like a film set without the cameras to capture the action, no audience to witness the crime, just actors who blindly replay the scene over and over again. A time-loop which can be controlled at his whim.
I was disturbed at the lengths he goes to, the control freak nature of the character makes him very unlikable, yet we carry on watching as we want to know what is this all about. A clinically controlled set that is carrying out the same test right up until the final test where reality is the new variable, shaking up the cards, going out to the real location, the actors have been lab-rats in one giant laboratory experiment, with no real purpose more than to explain the fragments of the mind of a guy that you come to really dislike. It’s the whole process and methodology that keeps you involved in the dark film that really gives you little to work with.
Patients who suffer with amnesia would relish being to have the freedom to re-enact scenes from their fragmented or lost memories in hoping to fill in the lost parts of their long-term memory. I was drawn to the low-key initial creations, the drawings and cardboard models that allowed Tom to start to piece together his past, which turns out to be a vicious circle he is doomed to repeat, there’s no room for change here, not like in Groundhog Day (1993) which allowed weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) to relive and learn from the day and improve himself in order to finally escape this loop which first was too much to handle. Tom is nothing like Phil, who was just as unlikable to begin but finds redemption in his ability to learn and grow. This is pure sci-fi that shows sometimes are destiny can sometimes never be altered. Flawed yet deeply fascinating, with questions that are left unanswered after seeing a guy we hardly know become someone you care little about yet your hanging onto know whats going to happen
Just recently I’ve been watching quite a few foreign language films that have all been very engaging, the one previous to The Deep/Djúpið (2012) was Julieta (2016) which I remember being discussed on it’s release in the UK. I must admit that I did try to write a review yesterday but failed to have the fire in me to get past a few paragraphs to really make it worth my time. I may return to it as and when. Having seen Deep/Djúpið I was unaware of what I would really expect, knowing only that there was a ship wreck, beyond that I knew little else. I think going into a film, foreign language or not its best to know as little as possible as it can really raise your expectations. I had very few beyond the description that came with the recording. Over breakfast I was taken back to 1984, and to an Icelandic Island where a tragedy was about to unfold.
We meet a group of men on a night out, it’s cold, snowing and tempers are running high at the time. I’m already thinking how are they not wearing more layers than they are here. I’m not considering that they are used to these temperatures so its nothing new to them. Unusually for a film we are following the more unlikely of characters, a man whose more rotund, not your the kind of man you expect to see leading a film, which in itself refreshing. Gulli (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) whose an average guy enjoying himself on a night out. Away from Hollywood representation of men at least is more true to life. For now we don’t know that the focus of the film is on him, as we meet 5 other men who we get to know before they set off on another fishing trip. Ironically the only real connection to Julieta. We see a few of the men back home, Palli (Joi Johannsson) who has a wife and kids. A man whose loved by all he knows, these moments are all important as we lead up to our time at sea. We also have a young chef whose about to be pushed by his new captain. All these moments allow us to get to know the men before they set off for the North Sea.
The look of the film is semi-documentary, not really getting in the faces of the characters, allowing them to just get on with life on the fishing boat. I was reminded briefly of the visceral imagery in Leviathan (2012) that took us into the silent world of fishermen at work, given only the images and silence between conversation aboard a ship. The audience is teased very early on into the trip as a net gets caught under the surface. Thankfully the first time they are able to save themselves from capsizing. Making me wonder why they would cast their net in such an area, aren’t these experienced fisherman out on another trip. It shows how incompetent the crew might be, do they not know the waters well enough to avoid this section of the sea. It’s a flaw in the film that is not explored. We are left wondering just why did they do this in the first place.
The second time around the net is caught and it’s too late, the winch is still going out and they are slower to react. We have been waiting for this to happen really, what will they do, will they get themselves out of this incident. It’s how the react that is the direction the film leads us. We see a father and son loose each other, a chef never to cook another meal whilst Gulli tries his best to rescue the remainder of the crew. Breaking Palli free before the real drama begins, going into survival mode. I forget this is the North Sea, becoming more about wanting these men to get back out of this cold water. 3 men soon become one – Gulli is the sole survivor of the crew, the man we weren’t expecting really in classic film terms. It’s awful seeing him all alone in the freezing water, with only a seagull to keep him company, for without the bird we would be in the world of Robert Redford‘s All is Lost (2012) and surviving at sea.
Its a different kind of survival, there are no books, no kit to work with, just pure instinct and the need to stay alive, to stay sane in the ice cold waters that has just taken his five colleagues. You could say it’s the Gull who saved him, kept him talking. Ignoring that seagulls come out to sea to die, he obviously close to land. His life does flash before his eyes in super 8 format, something you either go with or see as contrived as we return to this method a few times to allow flashbacks to happen. We are taunted with another boat that is so close yet so far away. Gulli has to swim to stay alive. Time really is drawn out before he finally spots land and faces another battle, the harsh rocky landscape and the tide that throws him about like a bit of drift wood. He finally makes it back to familiar ground, with bleeding feet and exhaustion.
He soon becomes the talk of the island, the loss of 5 men at sea and one survivor, something professionals all believe to be a miracle to survive from. You start to think about how and why he survived and it becomes glaring the obvious the more time we spend with Gulli, his extra weight acted as an insulator, not the scientific community reach that conclusion for sometime. Instead he’s invited to take part in medical research. We are wasting time here as we don’t need to see him treated like a lab-rat, the miracle is not a miracle, even to those who aren’t medically trained. It’s the weight, the fat that insulated him – they call it Seal fat, which is laughable as his parents would have to be Seals and we would have to be the world of Men & Chicken (2015). All I can think of now is puppy fat in children which is nonsense too.
Anyway flaw found I move onto see a man whose been poked, prodded and tested until he can take no more. Wanting to get on with his life. Do what he promised God he would, allowing others and himself to grieve and move on. To finally go back out there and put his life at risk once more, a fisherman a trade he cannot give up. It’s his life and the only one he knows, it’s a dangerous one which we have seen affect him far greater than we could imagine. On balance The Deep does have good intentions and have real heart. It fails to explore why the men cast their net twice is low areas, instead it focuses on the ‘miracle’ that was an overweight guy surviving in the North Sea. Common sense could have saved us a lot of time and given is a very different film. We do however really care for Gulli whose not allowed to process what’s happened and to get on with his life.