Showing posts with label british horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label british horror. Show all posts

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Descent (2005)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Neil Marshall || 2005 || UK

I'm easing back into this series with a well-known film while I still suss out my feelings about 2009's Dorian Gray, which I will post about either next week or the week after.

Upon its release in 2005, The Descent was heralded by some as a feminist horror film, primarily on the basis that the film focuses on a group of women who are extreme adventurers. While I liked the Dali-inspired poster art for the film, upon watching the film, I did not like the film as much as other people. I am ambivalent about the issue of whether a film featuring an all-female cast automatically equals feminist film. It tends to set low aspirations, or it lets certain films pass when they perhaps do not hold the most feminist viewpoints in the world. Upon second viewing, wherein I enjoyed the film more, I am willing to let The Descent pass, although it has an odd issue or two.

The main issue is that Juno's hubris is a double-edged sword, which may be the point. She wanted the group to go cave-diving in an uncharted cave in hopes that upon their making it out, they will have "discovered" this cave and get to name it, which would apparently be a first for a group of women. But of course, the uncharted cave is uncharted for a reason, and depending on which ending you prefer, only one person makes it out alive, or no one does. Or if you chuck in the recent sequel, which I have been advised by at least two reliable sources not to watch, there may be two survivors within the original group afterall. So ignoring the sequel and the alternate survivor ending, there is the underlying and vaguely sexist element of "well, if you ladies had kept your aspirations low and stuck to the charted caves, none of this would have happened!" Of course, at a certain point in the movie, most of the women feel the same way and are rightfully mad at Juno for putting them in danger.

I always see the two endings of the film discussed, but I rarely hear the idea discussed that perhaps the entire thing was a coma dream by Sarah after the car accident that kills her husband and daughter. There is the scene after she wakes up in the hospital where she is walking down the hallway and all the lights flicker off as she walks by. This scene heavily hints that it is a dream, but Sarah is woken up in the middle of the hallway by Beth, the nurturing member of the group and Sarah's best friend. The film immediately jumps a year later to Sarah and Beth driving through the Appalachian Mountains to the cabin Juno has rented near the caves, where we meet the rest of the group (which seems to deepen the unfamiliarity, since the majority of the group is British and are likely not familiar with this part of the US). Could the film just be a metaphor for Sarah falling deeper and deeper into a coma, while in her dream state sort of placing the blame on and eventually exacting revenge on Juno, because it was implied that she was having an affair with Sarah's husband (on top of in the possible dream, having killed Beth by accident and lying about it)? The original ending implies as much, where Sarah is shown kneeling over a fire and daydreaming about her daughter's birthday in the caves instead of climbing out, driving away, and envisioning a dead Juno (which is the alternate ending, and in the copy I watched this time, shown before the real ending with Sarah in the cave). The sequel apparently runs with the idea that it wasn't a dream, and Sarah is accused of having gone insane after the car accident, and killed everyone in the cave.

The other thing that the film only vaguely implies is that the creatures in the cave were at one point, humans. There are various shots where the creatures mouths are shown in close-up, and they have human tongues and teeth. There is another shot where you see the bottoms of their feet, and they are like the bottoms of human feet. The women find equipment that Juno claims is at least "100 years old", so perhaps it is the people who previously tried to explore the cave, could not get out, and evolved. It is a wise move that Marshall keeps this bit a mystery and instead focuses on the group trying to find their way out of the cave.

So I liked The Descent a lot more in this second viewing, and I will give that it is an interesting film. I just think that as far as Marshall's films go, I like Doomsday a lot more, and perhaps Dog Soldiers, although I haven't re-watched that in years. Marshall has his motifs and homages that he likes to use, such as the John Carpenter title fonts (The Descent, Doomsday), and having characters rendered immobile in dangerous situations by a sharp object to the knee (The Descent, Centurion).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Horde/The Horde, 28 Days Later, and the division of heroines

Repost from 2011.

Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology || Jennifer K. Stuller || 2010
28 Days Later || Dir. Danny Boyle || 2003 || UK
La Horde/The Horde || Dirs. Benjamin Rocher & Yannick Dahan || 2009 || France

I recently finished a book by Jennifer K. Stuller called Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Despite the somewhat academic-y title, it's a breezy read, primarily because Stuller never takes sides in the debates over whether female heroines should be nurturing and sexual while still being protective, or not (i.e., the lone wolf stereotype); at least when these debates are brought up. The book of course covers Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, The Sarah Jane Chronicles, blaxploitation films; and in a radical turn, Dark Angel, the series starring Jessica Alba. Most of these shows and films did allow the main female characters to have romantic and sexual relationships while still fighting for good. So it is only when discussing these shows or movies that Stuller takes the former side rather than the latter.

This crossover has maybe not quite yet made it into film, perhaps because TV is episodic and you get to know characters of the course of several seasons, if you're lucky; and of course you want to see characters develop relationships with each other in some form. When 28 Days Later came out nine years ago, feminist zinester friends of mine seemed to bemoan the fact that once at the military compound and/or she falls in love with Jim, Selena is not much of a fighter anymore and is made fun of by the military men when she attempts to. She is forced to shift over to protect herself and the much younger Hannah over the dreadful fate that looms over them (i.e., rape and forced motherhood). The problem with this argument is that it ignored the fact that Selena was not a superhuman warrior, she was not prepped to become one, and she was not trained by any secret force. She is just a human who had to put up a very cold facade to deal with an ugly situation. The only hint we're given to Selena's life pre-outbreak is that she "qualifies as a chemist!" While I'm sure she would put up a very good fight if she had to battle a dozen or so military officers with a machete, she would probably be defeated. In the scene where she and Mark give Jim the exposition in the subway convenience store, she is the only one who does not share what she had to go through to survive (the actress who played Selena, Naomie Harris, said that she made up the backstory that Selena had to kill her entire family when they became infected, including a 3-year-old brother). This doesn't explain why the recently convalescent Jim sprightly takes down the military group when he is a whisper-thin thing of a man, but it is Jim's story. In battle mode, he's like the wind, and perhaps uses his smallness to his advantage. Then again, he was a bike courier and those dudes are tough. There was an alternate ending or two for Jim. One being that he died from his gunshot wound, the other being a completely alternate storyline where Jim gives himself up by transfusing all his blood to the infected Frank, bypassing the entire military compound storyline. The latter was not shot, just storyboarded.

In zombie films, there is a divide. It can be pinpointed to the two different portrayals of Barbara in the 1968 and 1990 versions of Night of the Living Dead. 1968 Barbara, as portrayed by Judith O'Dea, was completely useless, but dealt with the new situation as some people would, which would be to have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, it's cool that in 2011 people are so inured to the fictionalized zombie world that they think that they could survive if zombies or something similar were to actually happen, but it's just a thought. See civilization and everyone you know fall apart or die, and realize that you actually have never held a weapon in your life, and we'll see what happens. 1990 Barbara, as portrayed by professional stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, becomes the hardcore version of Barbara. She breaks down at first, but becomes an almost cold and emotionless fighter. Tony Todd's Ben is more emotional in this film - he is more prone to crying. This isn't to say that Barbara won't break down later, but she shoots a fellow survivor in cold blood just because he is an asshole. There is no middle ground with the Barbaras in these two films.

Aurore in The Horde is closer to 1990 Barbara, despite being a whisper-thin (and braless) thing of a French woman. However, unlike Selena, she has had combat training because she is a cop. The Horde revolves around a small group of corrupt cops who invade a rundown building in the projects outside of Paris, seeking revenge upon a group of immigrant drug dealers who killed a fellow cop who was undercover. Not too long after the cops come upon the dealers, they realize a zombie infection has broken out. Not just within the dealers' apartment and the building, but also in Paris. The remaining dealers and cops must band together to try to find a way out of the building alive. There is a high level of distrust going on, especially from the dealers, as well as Aurore. Aurore early on is yelled at for crying, and the blame is placed on her for having the undercover cop killed, since she told him that she was pregnant with his child. It is implied that she did this just to mess with his head. She is given immediate care of the other wounded cop who has been shot in the leg.

Aurore and the wounded cop are soon separated from the rest of the group. It is soon displayed that Aurore is not someone you want to trifle with. She kills a zombie by repeatedly punching it in the head and body, then overturning a refrigerator onto it. She nearly kills the other cop, after he expresses some sympathy for her. The plot, character, and motivations in The Horde are not the most well-written. We don't know why Aurore suddenly flips and turns into a mercenary. It is likely that she has taken a lot of shit over the years for being a female cop, but why flip now? Even after the other characters notice the change in her, they still treat her as someone to be protected, when they perhaps should be more afraid that she will kill them all (and the group is soon small enough where she could). She particularly has it out for the leader of the dealers, Adewale, who she believes murdered the father of her child. The most reasonable member of both groups, Adewale is a Nigerian immigrant and refugee from the violence there, along with his more tempestuous younger brother Bol. He is the only member of the group who seems to have some sort of respect for the dead. Yet, he tends to patronize Aurore by calling her "dear", even after she has threatened his life.

The Horde is a pretty good film. Not as good as I thought it would be, but better than most. It is interesting because of the characters of Adewale and Aurore, as well as the fact that the characters tend to fight the zombies in hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes this is because there are no weapons, sometimes it is by choice. Aurore especially seems to thrive in crushing zombie heads. However, it is frustrating to watch the characters learn, then almost immediately forget that the zombies stay down if you shoot them in the head (not unlike the doctor in The Beyond). The zombies run in this one, adding to the tension. They also strangely hoard bodies. These are all interesting elements, but not enough is done with them. It is as if the filmmakers did not know whether to make a zombie action film or something a bit more human like the old Romero movies or the 28...Later series.