Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose brother Martin brought us the Oscar winning short Six Shooter and the Oscar nominated feature In Bruges, The Guard is the latest Irish comedy reaching shores beyond its own.
Author Ronan Doyle
erhaps most fondly known for his cult horror comedy Evil Dead franchise of the 80s and 90s, Sam Raimi arose from humble origins to become one of Hollywood’s most successful and bankable directors, steering the Spiderman series to record-breakingly fortuitous heights. His 2009 Drag Me to Hell, produced in the wake of his departure from the superhero franchise, represents an attempt to recapture the original essence of his work.
Almost every review I have read of Senna seems to find it necessary to insist that the film is of a wide appeal; that its audience need neither have any interest in, nor knowledge of, the subject of the documentary: Formula One racing. To say that I lack these things would be an understatement of staggering proportion, my attitude toward sport of any kind skeptical and cynical at best. Sport, to me, is like religion: I understand the concept, I appreciate that people get something out of it, but I can’t begin to fathom quite why.
Among the most well-known of international directors on the art house circuit, Michael Haneke has captured glimpses of the vacuousness of modern middle class life, the casual brutality of mankind’s very nature, and—most recently in his Palmes d’Or winning The White Ribbon — the malleability of childhood and the peril of authoritarianism. Often forgotten amidst the more highly ranked of Haneke’s impressive oeuvre is his 1994 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, a delicately structured film worthy of retrospective consideration.
The horror genre, at least in modern times, seems primarily hinged upon a number of fundamental tendencies. Of these, perhaps the most prevalent is the remake mentality, spawning an apparently incessant flow of reboots and rehashes of the successful horrors of times gone by. Many will argue for the justification of such remakes on the basis that the original films are now little known to the public en masse, a criterion arguably well-applied to The Wicker Man, its combined statuses as Scottish, cult, and from the 1970s making it ripe for a modern updating.
What makes a great horror film? It might seem a frivolous question, a near rhetorical one to which the answer “a film which scares” is obvious. Yet few would interpret The Wicker Man, the 1973 British cult classic, as particularly scary in the traditional sense. It is in the themes and ideas behind the film, however, that the element of horror is to be found. Like its American contemporaries The Exorcist and The Omen, The Wicker Man deals with that most effective of horror themes: religion.
As a cinematic genre, horror is particularly interesting in its dynamism. Moving with the times and attitudes of its audiences, the inherent malleability of horror has allowed it to escape the same fate of recurrent downfalls and resurgences as, for instance, the western. A fascinating aspect in the enduring popularity of the genre is the universality of its sub-generic trends: the same paradigmatic shifts in Hollywood horror are found throughout international film. The stripped-down, gore-heavy, excessively violent and sadistic fare which has characterised contemporary American horror output has become increasingly evident in world cinema, and particularly so in France’s Frontier(s).
Many is the film which has, on initial release, been critically dismissed and largely ignored, only to be later heralded as a masterpiece of cinema. Such is certainly the case with The Night of the Hunter, a film so poorly regarded upon its original 1955 release that its director—the actor Charles Laughton—was never again afforded the opportunity to stand behind a camera.
Black Bread begins with a familiar scene: a man leads his horse and cart through a darkened wood, glancing around with unease at the various forest sounds which break the tense silence. A fairy-tale quality hangs over the scene, the images framed in wide angles and brought to life with rich autumnal hues; perhaps this will be a fantasy parable. When an assailant attacks the traveller, binds him in the cart, and leads the now-blindfolded horse to the cliff’s edge, brutally smashing it in the face with a sledge hammer, our stomachs concomitantly fold alongside the illusion that this will be anything but sickeningly real.
Owing primarily to the contemporary Hollywood paradigm, any film which demonstrates a particularly large quantity of bloodshed is automatically branded with that most unsavoury of appellations: “torture porn”. Martyrs, Pascal Laugier’s 2008 French horror film, is no stranger to this label, its brutality immediately motivating its critics to set it among the ranks of these films largely dismissed as tasteless, tactless, and tawdry satiations of modern audiences’ violent voyeurism.