I watched four DVDs that fall into this category over the weekend just gone.
Cry of the Owl (2009)
This is marketed as horror (my DVD came with a lurid red tone cover and a man with an axe, who doesn’t actually appear in the film), but is based on a Patricia Highsmith story and would more accurately be classified as psychological crime. It starts with Robert who, after the break up of his marriage, finds solace by driving out into the country at night and spying on Jenny, who lives alone in a big house and looks so happy when she is standing at the window doing the washing up. But then Jenny discovers him watching and instead of calling the police invites Robert in to talk, quickly fixating on him and becoming convinced that they are in a relationship, which is something he isn’t ready for. When Greg, the boyfriend she dumped, goes missing after a fight with Robert, he finds himself a suspect in a murder inquiry, with ex-wife Nickie’s tales of abuse adding to the heat.
Paddy Considine as Robert and Julia Stiles as Jenny both play their parts well, the former so obviously damaged, but ultimately more troubled than troubling, while she moves from kooky to serious cause for concern. Both convey so much with a gesture, a shrug of the head, especially Considine. And I liked the idea of the stalker who becomes the stalked, with the credible reactions of other people to this unusual situation, particularly Jenny’s friends. If they’d left it at that, I would probably have felt a lot more positive about the film as a whole, but by adding thriller elements to the psychology the film overplays its hand. Greg and Nickie are just as screwed up as their former partners, but in a way that hurts others rather than themselves, and in the case of Nickie at least we don’t really get an explanation of why she hates Robert so much, though there’s the suggestion that actually she is still in love with him. So, there’s death and high drama, a mystery to be solved albeit one I found obvious, and it all hinges on everyone being a lunatic. How likely is any of that, outside the world of politics? In the end it’s just a naff crime story welded onto a good psychological study of two damaged lovers, the former undermining the latter.
The Holding (2011)
My favourite of these four, a gritty, low budget film set on an isolated farm in the Peak District. Cassie has killed abusive partner Dean, and is trying to make a go of things and hold together her family, daughters Hannah and Amy, but it’s difficult. Then Aden turns up, claiming to have been a friend of Dean’s and to have worked with him on the rigs. He makes himself at home, ‘taking care’ of rival smallholder Karsten, working the farm and putting its finances to rights, becoming Cassie’s lover. Only Hannah is resistant to the new arrangement, and his method of dealing with her ‘disobedience’ brings matters to a head, with the family facing up to a terrible danger.
This played out like a bleak and totally unglamorous version of Sommerfield with the suggestion of a supernatural element (Aden is an anagram of Dean, and he knows things that only the dead man could be party to), though at the end it turns out to be much more prosaic. It’s good at showing how easy it is for someone to insinuate himself into the lives of desperate people, to be welcomed as a saviour and with any nagging doubts pushed into the background. Also excellent in dealing with the psychology of the characters, particularly troubled Aden, who is so anxious for what he sees as the good life that he will do absolutely anything to cling on to an illusion of happiness, and with the revelation of why Cassie killed Dean. These elements effectively underpin the surface violence, with events seeming to take place in a bubble, one that we know will burst, even as Aden is in denial and Cassie remains ignorant. I enjoyed it.
The Silent House (2010)
A Uruguayan film (recently reprised by Hollywood) and allegedly based on a true story from the 1940s. Wilson and daughter Laura stay at an isolated, rundown house where he is to do some groundwork, but are disturbed by noises in the night. He goes upstairs to investigate and ends up dead. From then on we get an hour or more of Laura roaming round the house and grounds, jumping at every sound, making discoveries that hint at something very bad taking place in the house, dragging in family friend Nestor. And then the big reveal.
Yeah, this was a creepy film, and if somebody had walked in while I was watching it I would probably have had a coronary. But it’s a film that relies on suggestion and the viewer’s ability to scare himself rather than anything more concrete. Sometimes that approach works brilliantly, as with Blair Witch, but here it all falls apart in the final reel, when they attempt to show what’s actually happening. The problem is that it’s all shot in one continuous take, the camera always on Laura, except for a few interludes when the lights are out and the screen goes black, and in literary terms Laura is an unreliable narrator. At the end we are presented with a story of abuse and revenge, with Laura as the perpetrator, but as the camera has been on her all the time this seems like a cheat on the audience, who can’t possibly know that what we are witnessing is not the actual events as they occur but filtered through her troubled mindscape. With hindsight it all feels needlessly contrived, something that might have worked better without the gimmick of ‘one take’.
Final Destination (2000)
Not much to be said about this – it has the biggest budget and the least interesting content. When one of them has a vision, a group of kids get chucked off a plane that then explodes in mid-air shortly after take-off, and because they were supposed to die Death now takes a personal interest in ending their lives. The logic of course is flawed (if they were supposed to die, then they would have – simple as that), but after a brief stab at dealing with the idea of premonitions and how these effect people, the premise becomes nothing except a pretext for a series of increasingly bizarre and contrived slayings, presumably utilised because something as simple as dropping down dead from an aneurysm wouldn’t make good box office. At bottom, it’s Death as a serial killer whose MO involves a degree of grandstanding, and the appeal for viewers is seeing young Hollywood studs and studettes get offed in ever more elaborate set pieces (my favourite was teacher Ms Lewton, who really gets put through the mincer, with glass, fire, knives and electricity). It was fun in a pass the time sort of way, but forgettable, even if they have developed a successful franchise out of this small acorn.