Sunday, April 22, 2012
With a Willing Heart
Two films I watched over the weekend, one just released by Kino Lorber's Redemption line and the other set to pop on April 24, show that the horror genre has an interesting range when it comes to instilling the audience with feelings of hopelessness and despair. I'm not sure if this could be considered an undervalued goal for horror, but it's certainly one that, in cinematic terms, is rarely talked about, but it's part of the whole package. Nowadays, you do see it, in films like Martyrs, say -- in other words, very extreme movies where despair is linked to the graphic destruction of the characters, and the possible physical discomfort of the audience. This can be legitimate, as I'd argue is the case with Martyrs, but you might also end up with Frontier(s), with that dumb-ass parenthetical "s", and that's just a waste of your life. The Asphyx -- which hit stores last Tuesday -- would like to offer up a word of protest. The Asphyx, the only film directed by Peter Newbrook, a regular camera operator for David Lean, and shot by Freddie Young, who won three cinematography Oscars for his work with Lean, chronicles the quite rapid devastation of a family, headed by patriarch Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens), a relentlessly cheerful scientist who, around the turn of the 20th Century, is preparing to marry Anna (Fiona Walker), as well as to marry off his adopted son Giles (Robert Powell) to his daughter Christina (Jane Lapotaire). Everyone is meeting up at Hugo's sprawling home, joined as well by Hugo's other son Clive (Ralph Arliss), and things are quite sunny. Hugo has great plans on the career front, too, which involves both his early adoption of then-current photography and filmmaking technology, and his investigations into the possibility of capturing the image of a dying person's soul as it leaves the body. tuesday. Based on a novel by the Marquis De Sade, Justine is an exploitation film that is maybe not as, er, philosophically faithful to De Sade as Pasolini's Salo, but it certainly comes closer than Quills, the sort of biopic of De Sade that depicted the man as a depraved yet principled antihero, as opposed to simply depraved, full stop, the end. Justine is a horror story as picaresque, an unusual structure for a horror film, I think we can agree, and you might think for a while that for all its roughness and off-kilter sex, the filmmakers, director Chris Bolger and screenwriter Ian Cullen, approach to De Sade is to view him from the sporadically popular view -- I'm not sure where we are with him right now -- as the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, but from a long time ago. He was like the original E. L. James! Except that no. Justine, the character, played here by Koo Stark, is an innocent, one who takes her virtuousness seriously, but who is met at every turn in her life by debauchery and libertinism: at the convent where she lives early on, from the nuns and priests, from her sister Juliette (Lydia Lisle) who views a debauched life as necessary for independence, until the force of it all carries Justine into a brothel where, with Juliette, she's expected to give up her virtue for money (this section features Barry McGinn as the coked-up house stud, in a performance that made me wonder if I was even going to be able to finish this thing). But she flees, straight into the mouth of hell.