Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 4 [Raw, 1922, Jackals]

RAW (2017)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Notable Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss

The fascinating thing about Raw is that with all of its exploitative content (cannibalism, gore, sexuality) that it never treats itself like an exploitation film. It uses all of those elements to simply convey some of the themes of its story in heavy handed, but wholly cinematic ways. Themes about feminism, familial influence, coming-of-age youth pieces, communication, and the strange stresses that can break down students new to college are all seemingly fitted into a plot about a young woman who succumbs to cannibalistic urges, more or less. The balance and artfulness of how those themes congeal though is impressive to say the least. Raw is artfully done and it is the kind of horror film that will resonate much longer than many of its peers thanks to its layered and robust writing/execution that allows for lengthy cinephile analysis. In many ways, the film is much akin to early Cronenberg, albeit without the rough edges and fiesty 'be all, end all' energy, and for that I give it much praise.

My one issue with Raw is that in all of its artful approaches, vague builds, and mysterious motivations for characters, the film does haphazardly feel like it never has an end game in mind. That the interpretation of its events IS the purpose of the story. It’s an artistic approach to the material, one that director Julia Ducournau handles with finesse. For some, this is a great thing. For me, it occasionally felt like it would feel unfocused as it went about its narrative presenting the material as a “slice of life.” It's a small issue, but one that has stuck with me since finishing it. Nonetheless, for horror fans and cinephiles, this is definitely a gem of the year and one worth seeing. Raw has phenomenal performances, fantastic thematic undertones, and truly engaging characters that interact with the concepts well. Still one of the best the best horror films of the year.

1922 (2017)
Director: Zak Hilditch
Notable Cast: Thomas Jane, Dylan Schmid, Molly Parker, Neal McDonough, Kaitlyn Bernard, Brian d’Arcy James

While the new version of It provides the jump scares, humor, and epic plotting of the usual Stephen King novel and Gerald's Game provides a thematic and heavy look into stylized nuance of Stephen King's work, 1922 provides a third facet: the stripped back uneasiness of character driven core structures and thoughtful examination of an evil act through that lens. Not a traditional horror film in almost any way, 1922 is a bleak and unnerving drama (with some supernatural horror elements that provide parallels more than scares) where a brilliant performance by Tom Jane anchors the film and its concept. This is a film where the plot, style, and hook come second to the Jane powered narrative that grinds a robust and layered character study. New viewers need to be prepared for that much of the film.

At times 1922 can seemingly drag on as director Hilditch embeds serious detailing into the film to engross the audience in the world of Jane's simple and proud farmer, including an entire subplot that features his son and the neighbor girl’s romantic flight, but most of it feels to have meaning to the overall story and character driven concept. It meanders at times in doing so, undermining the general stripped back feel of how it starts. It’s obvious that this is not a film meant to be entertaining. This is a film where the narrative comes first and if that requires the time and effort of its audience to endure its sense of building dread, layered plotting, or even symbolic rat visions then so be it.

Honestly, it's quite refreshing. 1922 comes highly recommended.

JACKALS (2017)
Director: Kevin Greutert
Notable Cast: Stephen Dorff, Jonathon Schaech, Deborah Kara Unger, Ben Sullivan, Chelsea Ricketts, Nick Roux, Cassie Hernandez, Alex Castillo, Carol Abney, Alex Kingi, Jason Scott Jenkins, Alyssa Julya Smith

After editing The Strangers, I guess director Kevin Greutert wanted to make his own version...which came out to be Jackals. While this film is not nearly as atmospherically drenched and horrifyingly simple as the former film, Jackals does succeed on many levels as a slasher/home invasion flick. Namely, it's well paced and well directed. Enough so that it creates some of those intense and menacing moments as one would expect with vague masked cult members who are surrounding an isolated cabin filled with family members. The violence can be shockingly effective and there is a solid twist at the end of the first act that nimbly takes the audience out of just following the usual blueprint.

The problem with Jackals is that some of the character choices and overall motivation for the film, an intense kidnapping and de-brainwashing of a son - who anchors the film with his impressive performance, are weak and glazed over. There’s plenty of character motivation, even some solid arcs for them, but once the film starts moving it feels as though there are pieces where they make rash decisions for the sake of plot progression. Also, the third act feels rushed in many regards and it's left with a very, very open ending that will drive some viewers completely up the wall (and one of those viewers is me.) Despite some solid atmosphere, intense sequences, and a great idea, Jackals is more of a mixed effort than one would have hoped. Recommended for fans of The Strangers or You're Next, but it’s not nearly on the level as either of those.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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