Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Red, red everywhere. And not a Drop to Spare!

Last night, I watched two new release Horror/Thriller DVDs which contrasted one another quite well. By contrast, I do not mean that both brought out the other's strengths. No no no, as the first was a resilient reissue of Dario Argento's first film, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and the second was the last lifeless offering by Wes Craven, last years one-in-a-slew-of-airplane-hijinks, Red Eye. Starring romantic comedy newbie, Rachel McAdams (fresh off The Notebook, a film I was forced to watch twice on a plane soaring to and from Paris) and hot-hotty-hotty-hot-hot Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins and Breakfast on Pluto), Red Eye adds very little to the thriller genre. In fact, I might go so far as to say Flightplan is a more interesting watch than this uninspired stagger towards paycheck land. Where Murphy is always wonderful to watch for sexual purposes, it is much more fulfilling watching a constipated Jody Foster recapitulate her last few films, running around the cargo hull screaming, "Catharin...err... Julia!" There is little tension in this would-be thriller because of a precious attitude still exerted towards 9/11. If you're going to make a film with its finger on the pulse of current phobias, don't be half assed about it. And that half assed attitude is what make Red Eye plummet into dullsville. Rachel McAdams, of course, does not help. Like most contemporary actresses, she is incapable of creating a single believable moment. Craven succeeds in turning Murphy into a boy-next-door slightly off kilter. He has never looked so off in a normal way.

The film's main fault lies, however, in its marketing. The horror/thriller genre is in such a marketeering phase at the moment, it is almost groundbreaking when an R rated horror film is released which deserves its rating without being merely an unmitigated gore fest (Saw or Hostel). Red Eye is PG-13, keeping it from that boundary pushing realm that might actually scare us into the film. Nary a drop of blood is spilt (even though a character gets stabbed in the throat with a pen) and no horrifically gruesome things are stated, which, if you've got a set-up where two people sit on an airplane for half of the movie, is where the real horror should lie. But Craven is too concerned showing the world outside and cuts to the ground level action entirely too much, preventing any sort of Hitchcockian tension which may might have developed, had he stuck with our two protagonists. The film also reeks of this marketing element as it clocks in at 1 hour and 13 minutes! It leaves you waiting for the Fatal Attraction rebirth of our baddie which never comes. Instead we have the ridiculous character delivery shit that seems like the new requisite for a Hollywood-Horror ending. We don't care that Rachel McAdams has changed. Let's be honest, we want a bunch of showdowns between creepy Cillian and our screaming, flailing bimbette. The Argento's women are at times quite irritating, but it is much more delightful to have a woman crying and writhing around on the floor in anguish than an unconvincing example of girl-power getting the job done early. At least Brian Cox is there to remind us why we love him so.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage on the other hand, is precisely what Red Eye should aspire to be. It's fun, it's tense and boy does it have a delivery. Sam is walking home one day when he witnesses a struggle between a trench-coated man and a very Argento red haired woman in a sculpture gallery. She is stabbed in the gut (in a white one-piece, no less) and writhes about on the floor screaming while Sam is trapped between two glass doors. Of course, Sam becomes entrenched in the murder plot and struggles to resolve the killer's identity. The Bird... is a taut suspense, not quite on par with Argento's masterpiece Deep Red and a different creature entirely from that Argento world infested with witches and goblins. No, here Argento's demons wear black leather gloves and full length vinyl trenchcoats, wielding meat cleavers and sacrificial daggers. One of the most harrowing elements to the film is a painting which pops up towards the middle of the film. If ever Argento found a startling image to send tremors of absolute terror down our spine, it lies here. And, of course, the secret of the film lies in the painting itself. The Bird... does certainly have its lagging moments. The midsection is so fraught with its promise to deliver that it grows slightly weary at times. Still, Argento knows precisely how to make us cling to the edge of the sofa, and it is great to feel that. It is a rare emotion to conjure these days, when the majority of scares are of the most superficial variety. Note Argento's use of red in the film. It is the most staccato element here (recall red in Roeg's Don't Look Now), along side the Morricone soundtrack which is brilliant, as always. This isn't Argento's best, but for god's sake, it is worlds better than any of the other crap out there right now. See this before you rent Saw II. I assure you, this will be SO much more fun.


Blogger J said...

The photo you chose for 'Red Eye' is brilliant -- I haven't even seen the film, but your description of Rachel McAdam's character/performance can be summed up wonderfully in her facial expression... it's as if she knows she's going to get away and appears bored (maybe sexually aroused) by Cillian's hand around her neck. Perfect choice!

8:52 PM  
Blogger Richard Gibson said...

I recently re-watched 'The Bird With the Crystal Plumage', I'd seen it on the big screen years ago. I definately prefer 'Deep Red' which I only saw recently, I heard/read somewhere Argento chose Hemmings because he liked 'Blow Up'.

4:28 PM  

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