Screen on Screen's second Hidden Treasures article, after last week's which focused on female performances, is centred on alternative horror films. None of the three are conventionally 'scary', but certainly provocative and unsettling in surprising and innovative ways.
AMER (2009) - HELENE CATTET AND BRUNO FORZANI
A thrillingly, throbbingly erotic experience, the feature-length directorial debut of Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani is one of the most singular first films in recent years, and one of the most exciting in what it promises for their future. Few have the audacity to produce something this experimental, this expressionistic on first outing, but their target is clear and their aim is true, and it's a target rarely, if ever, approached before. Ana, as a child, an adolescent and an adult, is a victim of a repression that she is blind to, but not immune to. What can cut through the barriers of solitude and fear for her but carnality, born out of curiosity. The mind wants what the heart can't have, but Ana's mind is unaware of what is even within her grasp, and unaware of what her heart desires. Her sexual awakening is abrupt and throttling, and it consumes her, takes her to the brink of obsession. The vivid cinematography and sensual soundscape are as pure, as radical and as exceptional as you're likely to have seen - I imagine Cattet and Forzani's intention was to induce in their audience something of what Ana experiences, as her life is sensorially transformed. In a dark, quiet theatre, these sounds and images could have a similar effect on any of us.
After the cut, two more alternative horror films, each one most different from the others, and extraordinary in their own right.
I have found little of value in the wave of hyper-violent Gallic horror films in the last fifteen years, known as the New French Extremism. Marina de Van's graphic, disturbing, yet patient and never gratuitous film may horrify you in (some of) its violent content, but it is the psychological violence which Esther (de Van) inflicts upon herself, rather than the physical, which is the more memorable aspect of this film. De Van wrote, directed and starred in this chilling examination of one woman's mind, which has begun to seemingly dislocate parts of her own body from itself, to the extent that she no longer seems to feel pain (or at least care that she does), and becomes fascinated with aggravating a nasty gash on her leg. Her body is her toy, and her attitude towards it is less than considerate. Fans of guts and gore may be disappointed by the lack thereof, but de Van, taking near-total control over this story and its depiction, appreciates that, although violence is an integral element of In My Skin, its abundance is not required - indeed, perhaps the opposite. The restaurant-set scene (pictured above) is one of the most strangely, psychologically claustrophobic experience I can remember having. De Van's accomplishments are striking, and her clarity of vision commendable.
RED, WHITE & BLUE (2010) - SIMON RUMLEY
Don't be tempted to read up on this one. If you find a DVD copy, don't read the blurb. If you come across it online, don't check IMDb. You see, Red White & Blue is only barely the film that it has been marketed (albeit minimally) as. It is a shocking film, briefly, but its premise is more shlock-y than shock-y, yet its treatment could not be any less so. What Simon Rumley has done with such a worn old narrative outline is to endow upon it the emotional potency which so many similar films could benefit immeasurably from. He draws out the expository scenes, allowing them to attain a sense of truth and realism, and familiarising us with the characters. It is this measured pacing that makes details which could have formed part of the synopsis of any other film, part of their first fifteen minutes, become major plot points, or at least plot points with some degree more emotional heft. One sudden shift in perspective is made so by its unexpectedness, whereas a more conventional film might have integrated it in with earlier scenes. In response, he omits much of what would have formed the meat of most other treatments of such a premise, and lays the eventual brutality on thinly, but most memorably. By this stage, the sheer intensity generated by the outstanding performances (from even actors with a mere few lines) and the gradual surge of tension as this sorry chain of events reaches its resolution, may take you aback. Its greatest achievement, though, is its most pressing detail, and it is this that gives the film its title. This is life for the hot, bothered and desperately lonely in America, the forgotten people in the forgotten neighbourhoods, with the dead-end jobs and the sick relatives. It's as thoughtful and as astute a portrait of modern America as ever a non-American has created. The score, by Richard Chester, is a haunting work of art. This is, for me, one of the best films you've never heard of (unless you've heard of it, in which case yes, you're smarter than me).