There are inevitable comparisons to the recent Girlhood, in how both Sciamma’s film and Divines both depict the poor inhabitants of its French locale and their struggle to escape into something more. The legendary La Haine even comes into memory here as another example, but there’s still something very special about what Benyamina achieves within Divines which I absolutely adored.
It’s a film aware of its rough edges and the trials of its characters through their unglamorous existence, but there’s always this flirtation and fantasy towards something better which gives it a nice kick. A notable example being Dounia and Maimouna’s Ferrari roleplay which is shot with a real creative swivel, giving the film more energy and enthusiasm.
From then on, Divines establishes itself with an identity we’ve seen explored before – selling drugs and appeasing the local kingpin, Dounia’s own love interest, and troubles at home with her alcoholic and promiscuous mother – but there’s always this insatiable enthusiasm and interest to anything the film says which relegates the importance of a lot of its familiarity seen in its narrative components.
You could even argue some of the film’s subplots aren’t fully realised, but I’d defend this theory with the suggestion they’re more than likely obstacles for Dounia to tackle as she goes through adolescence. This suggestion shows dividends in Divines final moments, as we witness our heroine distraught by what she’s been through already and the tragedy suffered hits home in the most explosive manner possible.
A wonderful, frenetic, memorable work of cinema, which deserves more attention. I look forward to see what Benyamina comes up with next.
In terms of biopic, Jackie succeeds because it manages to identify an iconic and unforgettable moment in American history without ever feeling like a lecture on the subject. But its success in terms of character assessment is where Pablo Larrain’s study of widowed first lady Jackie Kennedy makes its mark. Larrain manages to represent the strain on Jackie’s existence in what is the toughest week of her life, utilising the camera to absolute precision with the most uncomfortable close-ups on her face, detailing the immense stress and grief facing her at this time. Natalie Portman, in the role, is astonishing. The way her emotions are presented and the trauma seen within every expression provides even more trauma for the viewer witnessing it. It’s impossible to pull away from the dignity of Portman’s performance, the courage within her work to unleash every trait of acting and make it feel as pure and human as possible. I’m struggling to find another performance to compare it to, it’s that impressive. The writing is also excellent, but another element of Jackie which helps intensify the film’s traumatising atmosphere is Mica Levi’s score. It’s unbelievable.
One of the more supreme and underrated examples of non-franchise slasher cinema there is, Tony Maylam’s film is keenly indebted to the legacy of its clear inspiration in Friday the 13th. The Burning manages to explore similar narrative themes seen with Cunningham’s genre classic, and a lot of its criticism can be attributed to its similarities and a lack of intelligence in formulating its own real identity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth because Maylam’s film simply uses the Friday the 13th formula as a blueprint to shape something very different entirely. Sequences throughout will lead you to believe it’s another forgettable entry in a never-ending line of slasher films from the 1980’s, but The Burningincorporates elements I could never have expected. The way the killer stalks, how the camera presents him and the way Maylam elicits music queues as someone is about to be slaughtered evokes a mood more familiar with a lot of Dario Argento’s Giallo pictures. The killer is also shown dressed in all black to drive home the homage even further. It makes for a very unsettling atmosphere, and while the finale reverts back to more familiar slasher territory in a rather underwhelming manner, there’s no doubting this is a work of horror worthy of more discussion.
There’s so much here that it’s absolutely unbelievable The People Under the Stairsisn’t talked about more alongside Wes Craven’s many other iconic works of horror. In a way, I appreciate its lesser familiarity with viewers – despite its positive reception – due to just the sheer audacity of ideas and thematic concepts Craven indulges his audience with, making it a hard challenge to efficiently label this under one title with one sole identity. The People Under the Stairs is perhaps best described as an effective funhouse horror utilising the excitement factor and use of a tense locale to drive a nerve-shredding atmosphere, but it also appropriately uses concepts more familiar with the thriller genre in home invasion movies to ramp up the tension even more, pressuring its viewers into an atmosphere which is hard to escape. There’s even an underlying examination of the zombie film if you consider it definitively. The other monumental success of this film is how it manages to incorporate a goofy and careless attitude, which conflicts with the savage brutality of what really The People Under the Stairs is clearly more focused on. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, considering this is the same director who helped ignite the 80’s slasher film with A Nightmare on Elm Street and then reestablished several times through New Nightmare and the Scream series. Wes Craven truly was a legendary filmmaker.
A bizarre work not akin to any other entry in the Halloween series, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II takes on a more spiritual edge, evaluating not only the terror caused by Michael Myers’ savage murders but more the effect its had on all its characters, with Laurie’s deconstruction the most pivotal element seen here. There’s such a dark, chilling, brooding atmosphere luring over every frame of Zombie’s work which helps to add appropriately to the mystery behind his character we were unfamiliar with before Zombie portrayed it in his remake, boosting an even greater degree of fear than Zombie achieved previously. I’m a big admirer of his first remake, but I will admit it’s a work more in line with the gore induced structure than a narrative which aims to build tension upon tension. Here, Halloween IIleans more to the greater side in tune with manifesting tension, yet still produces a vibe which is always effective. The use of the white horse and Myers’ dead mother throughout adds further evidence to the claim of this being one of the most underrated horrors of the century thus far.
Barely resembling its label as a sequel to The Exorcist, writer turned director William Peter Blatty crafts his film as more of a singular vision of a tale whereby its individuality proves to be its greatest strength. For much of its first half, The Exorcist III plays out as an aimless mystery thriller of the original’s own Lieutenant Kinderman’s search for The Gemini killer, which for a time is far from fascinating or creative. It’s the film’s second half, though, which really ignites a fire I found impossible to extinguish. Blatty throws so many explosives at the viewer it’s a challenge to not at least appreciate the sheer insanity of what he’s giving to us. Sequences here forcefully link it to the original and the disturbing nature of many of Brad Dourif’s sequences and the reappearance of a certain Father Damien Karras even have an atmosphere resembling something with David Lynch’s (Lost Highway, specifically) name attached. If anything, the uneven disorder of the first half is the perfect spoiler for all the orchestrated lunacy of its latter half.
Almost like the inbred offspring of Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Laugier’s Martyrs infused with the coldness of any Michael Haneke, and desensitised through the visual deterioration of monochrome image. Nicholas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother holds these lofty influences upon its shoulders very clearly, but strikes the perfect balance between admiring its ancestors and creating a work which still manages to stand away individually as a truly miraculous work of genre. Most of what unfolds throughout Pesce’s brooding mood-piece proceeds without any explicit detail or reasoning, but we’re still welcomed into this macabre world through his many ideas of vulnerability and isolation. Everything here persists with the idea of punishment as a form of revenge or retaliation, but Pesce never relies too heavily on it to generate the film’s horrific power – that is registered through his expert use of the camera and those eerie takes whereby we fall victim to the film’s suffocating atmosphere. This is where I connect it Haneke’s work, notably through Cache or Code Unknown, but like I say, I still find The Eyes of My Mother to be a transformative monster of monochrome cinema which delivered precisely what I wanted.