Kill them, baby, one more time; Alien: Covenant (2017), dir: Ridley Scott

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Prepare yourselves to repeat the ritual of alien penetration in the fellowship of the space exploration or as is the case in Covenant, colonisation. You’ve surely being here before, even if you’ve only watched the first film of the Alien trilogy but that doesn’t mean you will leave the theatre unsatisfied.

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The film deals with the origins of creation and the creator-creation relationship parallel to raw and cruel scenes against humanity in an adventure where the stronger prevails. The Covenant consists the bridge between the end of Prometheus and the events in the original Alien, by diving into the origins of the alien blood-thirsty beasts that first appeared in theatres in 1979.  Good flow of scenes that are smoothly connected and executed with great performances and excellent directing from Scott who is a masterful expert on the sci-fi genre.

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In Covenant, Scott is using the cult cinematic myth of the Alien with no desire to innovate and invent. The film feeds upon the nostalgic feeling of the genuine scares of the original movie without adding something new or remarkable to the classic story. A smarter approach to the scenario would have saved me the disappointment provoked by certain scenes; such as the one where the Captain willingly looks into an opening Xenomorph’s egg when treacherous David  – who minutes before has flipped out when the Captain shot a Xenomorph that had just beheaded a member of the crew – suggests so, or the ending scene that shockingly reveals something we saw coming, if not since the beginning of the film, then by the moment David and Walter are left alone to fight and only one makes it back…

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However, it was a great choice to locate the story on a macabre-looking place, a planet with great vegetation that hides the city of the dead in its core. Aren’t these the perfect surroundings to prepare you for doom?!  And so the rain falls non-stop and the creatures wandering around seem to have made killing and impregnating our misfortunate travelers their life mission.

My favourite bits of the film are its real stars: the Xenomorphs. Similarly to their 1979 predecessors, the monsters in Covenant are more faithful to Giger’s original art and as elegant as the angels of death are a horrifying spectacle indeed. Although, Scott patiently prepares the viewer by slowly setting the atmosphere of terror for the time that the crew will fight for their lives in blood and naivety, the overall predictability of the structure fails this build-up. In an interview, Scott mentions that his goal is giving us time to identify with the characters and care for them but in the 45 minutes (almost the ½ of the film as it last 122 minutes) before the deathly action begins, I felt boredom instead of sympathy…

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However, it was only when Xenomorphs made their appearance that my stomach got tight and one thought governed my mind; had I been them, I wouldn’t last a minute! Oh wait… neither did they!

The choreographed attack by Xenomorphs in a field of tall grass in the first half and the visceral hunting that follows and sees blood and gore gush from every pore of the film are thrilling. Our very first scene of a Neomorph bursting out of a human and the subsequent panicking and killing is gripping and utterly transporting. I particularly loved the scene where David approaches the Xenomorph in an attempt to communicate and gain the creature’s respect.

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Xenomorphs have an elegant shape and a relentless appetite for screams, blood and human flesh, which makes their presence a menace of disproportionate dimensions for the poor, fragile humans. The fact that the opponents are so unfairly unequal made me loose interest when almost all heads dropped down and it was only Daniel’s character that reassured me for the upcoming – and single in the entire film – victory in the final battle. Katherine Waterston is a force of nature and an artful actress that takes you with her in her emotional pain at first, and then in her stubbornness for survival and escape.

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Michael Fassbender’s dual performance is the perk and the differentiating element of the Covenant compared to the other Alien movies.  He acts against himself and delivers an interesting performance. A good example is the scene where an ecstatic David attempts to prove his point to his look-alike Walter and manages to set scenery charged with homoerotic energy and ample narcissism that is actually – and I hope intentionally – rather funny.

The film failed to immerse me into the existential and religious Odyssey supposedly experienced by the characters. David despises his maker and the entire humanity in fact, considering them a weak and rightly dying bread. He resists to a servant’s life that was destined for him and thanks to his appointed talents and abilities David manages to do plenty of harm. David is technically and emotionally more evolved than Walter but suffers from a delusional fever of creation obsessiveness and a severe God complex. Although, he is not a relatable character he is admittedly the most interesting one.

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After the film you might wonder if you’d ever consider taking part in a space colonisation mission, think of the way you’d like to be killed by a Xenomorph (probably the least painful or the most eccentric..), pick which one you’d like best: being a human or an android, start appreciating the flute, never take a shower listening to loud music again and think how cool it would be to have a look-alike to take your place whenever you fancy!

Bite the flesh and loose control; Raw (2016), dir: Julia Ducournau

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I very much anticipated the film that made viewers faint in Toronto Film Festival as a result of the realistic depiction of cannibalism. Horror and cannibalism have never been my cup of tea on the screen – with the glorifying exception of the Bryan Fuller’s NBC TV series, Hannibal – so I wasn’t sure how I would react to young Justine’s cravings. My stomach was tight throughout the film but I genuinely liked it. Raw has an incredible energy as the tension and the horror build up slowly from the beginning only to climax towards the end. It scares you, disgusts you, shows you the darkest corners of human sexuality, upsets you and terrorises you at a very realistic level as you gradually spot the similarities between the protagonist and yourself.

The film’s French/Belgian title is Grave that means serious, important and is connected to a vital scene in the narrative. And a serious condition it is, the one Justine, our heroine finds herself into. Triggered by a bite of raw meat as part of the initiation ritual for sophomores by the veterinary school’s fraternity, she is experiencing for the first time (having being a vegetarian all her life) an unquenched desire for flesh.

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Ducournau’s first attempt to direct is heavily inspired by the 2000 Canadian horror Ginger Snaps and the erotic French 2001 Trouble Every Day. The cult films explore the relationship of two teenage sisters that unite against the threat of an unwanted transformation. In the case of Raw, it is not the myth of the Lycanthropes (aka Werewolves) or that of Vampires that messes with the siblings’ lives but their cannibalistic desires. Our two sisters, Alexia and Justine have an imbalanced relationship, charged with antagonistic feelings that spur violent confrontations.

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Justine enters a new world much crazier and brutal than what she can take. Initially, she lowers her head and undergoes the fraternity’s hazing in silence. It becomes clear from the first scene at the school – the raid of dorms by the masked elder students that reminded me of a hostage situation or an attack at gunpoint – that violence is the weapon of power. At the beginning of the film this weapon is at the hands of the fraternity that terrorises Justine and makes her everyday life insufferable (when she has to wear pampers in class, her mattress is thrown under the window, etc.). Later on however, it is Justine who is handed the power thanks to her transformation. She is the most dangerous being amongst them and she is no longer in absolute control. The veterinary school therefore, functions as the platform of personal growth and self-discovery for her and she manages to enter adulthood in a reluctant and horrifying way.

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Ducournau’s script gives us a story about transformation that cannot be interrupted once it starts and perhaps, it shouldn’t be anyways. Surely, it is not a sweat deal for Justine and her sister (and their mother as we learn by the end of the film in a shocking moment of revelation) to be possessed by their yearnings for fresh human flesh but it is part of their identity, of who they truly are. This is a coming-of-age film that doesn’t judge its heroines but praises their empowerment instead.

The craving for fresh and the physicality of the outbursts of this desire can easily be a metaphor for sexual awakening. The metamorphosis of an innocent teenager who is shy, quiet and feels awkward around boys into a strong, sexy and untamed woman with taboo desires touches upon the female empowerment and sexual liberation in today’s society.

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A proof for the above in my case was the unexpected level of identification with the character that I experienced. Her vulnerability and insecurity when new sensations and urges overwhelm her on the one side and her force, courage and lust for life on the other make Jusitne a highly relatable heroine who you can root for because she goes through an ordeal that remind you a lot of your own adolescent troubles. Finally, the much talented 19-year old Garance Marillier (Justine) gives a brave and dynamic performance that is imperative to the film’s quality. She captivates the viewer as she mirrors their reactions to what is being unfold before them because her heroine seems to be one of us, just like us or could she simply be us?

 

 

 

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) dir: Francis Ford Coppola

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It must be the week of horrors for me, as Halloween is almost here and the atmosphere is getting heavier and spookier so do my viewing choices. My theory is that in the midst of autumn, when the sky is already dark as soon as late afternoon and the cold is sharp, we are involuntarily placed in a claustrophobic mental mode. Late last night, before going to bed I decided to watch only one scene from my all time favourite, and admittedly classic film of F.F.Coppola, starring the brilliant Gary Oldman, and of course I ended up watching the entire film again. But it is so hard to resist its powerful and mysterious setting (even when you are more than familiar with the story) that is partly attributed to the incredible and so characteristic score composed by Wojciech Kilar.

Let me note here that I happen to consider the “Twilight” series to be the ultimate hubris of the Vampire genre (vampires are NOT wining, sparkling, cheesy teenagers), so I urge anyone who had enjoyed themselves (somehow) with these films to give this one a shot. Inspired by Stoker’s novel the film portrays the Count’s quest to reunite with his true love Elisabeta four centuries after their cruel separation. Elisabeta’s soul has returned in the (literally identical) body of Mina who loves Jonathan but cannot fight her predestined feelings for Dracula.

The Cast: 

Amongst the talented cast (apart from Keanu Reeves who is truly so inadequate and at times, ridiculously bad that makes me wonder what Coppola saw in him, and Winona Ryder that annoys me most of the time) the following actors made the strongest impression:

  • Gary Oldman is a character actor who brings out the humanity in the Count. The scene in which he abandons his human nature renouncing God and becomes an immortal avenger is breathtaking and fierce. The voice quality that he achieves enhances the mysterious and tormented idiosyncrasy of the character and his laughter is so unique and unforgettable (did I mention it is quite spooky too?!).

Favourite quote:Listen to them: the children of the night. What sweet music they       make.

  • Sadie Frost as Lucy is fantastic and radiant. We meet her as an enthusiastic, playful and childish young lady and later on we witness her while she transforms into a vampire bride, so sexual and ruthless that captivates our attention. The scene in the cemetary where she eventually faces her true death (someone has been watching “True Blood” …) is a beautifully crafted portrayal of the seductive powers she possesses.

Favourite quote: “Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you, my darling.” (note: her British accent makes all the difference)

  • Anthony Hopkins chooses to become a Prof. Van Helsing far more weird and complex than its previous, most notable and consequential version of Peter Cushing in Dracula (1958) (and in the long series of pointless films that followed the success of the original). Small details, for instance initiating dance with Mina (and smelling her for no apparent reason), the way he scratches his forehead over dinner with the newlyweds, the way he holds the fork, his frantic excitement and huge appetite even during the darkest times make the character unique and slightly mad.

Favourite quote:Civilization and siphilisation have advanced together“.

Wonderful Scenes: 

  • Renouncing God in Romanian.
  • Dracula shaves Jonathan (and unfortunately doesn’t cut his throat to save us from the torment of watching him try for the next hour...)
  • Count’s gift to his brides in the presence of a shocked Jonathan (or so he tried to look but miserably failed..again..).
  • Dracula rapes and feeds from Lucy in the garden.
  • The Count, Mina and the wolf.
  • Lucy’s death

Interesting fact: 

The set is simple but the impeccable costumes created by Eiko Ishioka that fairly won her the Academy Award for Costume Design in 1993 are the true set of the film, according to the director that deliberately invested the film’s budget on them. The Victorian suits and dresses  and the Count’s signature blue sunglasses place the film to the most defining styling references of the 90’s in film. In fact, a pair of red-lensed similar sunglasses made an appearance at the A/W Prada Menswear show in 2012 in Gary Oldman ‘s breast pocket!!

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The following documentary explains the importance of costumes in the film, as they functioned as a crucial storytelling medium.

 

The film is rich, romantic and intimidating. I am obviously biased, as I find the myth of the Dracula fascinating and extremely tragic, and not at all scary. The portrayal of Dracula has remained for years separate from the eroticism that is planted in the story’s very core; what else can be considered as a romantic gesture if not that of a man that inflicts himself with “living death” and patiently waits for the moment when he shall be reunited with his one true love? It was Christopher’s Lee performance in 1958’s Dracula that first resurfaced the sexuality of the character. Oldman’s performance took it a step forward thanks to the script that provided various scenes of seduction that included both romantic promises of eternal love to Mina and raw sexual liberation during (and afterwards…) the encounters with his victim, Lucy. Only two years later comes Interview with a Vampire (1994) to further enhance vampire sexuality by exploring the complicated and toxic relationship between homosexual companions Louis (Brad Pitt) and Lestat (Tom Cruise). Those films can be considered the predecessors of the most recent films and tv series that have established vampires as sex symbols in popular culture.

“The Conjuring 2” (2016) dir: James Wan

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It might strike as a bizarre, yet spontaneous choice to watch and express my thoughts on a horror film being a person that avoids the genre like a demon avoids the cross. However, there come times when a film successfully enhances the fantasies about what lies beyond by narrating a captivating story with a talented cast and by adding the necessary twists of terror with the help of image and sound effects.

The case is inspired by the “Enfield Poltergeist” activities that allegedly haunted the Hodgson family in 1977 and resulted in the demonic possession of their 11 year-old daughter. The Conjuring 2 builds a connection with the previous film that first introduced us to the couple of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine and that link is achieved by solving an important mystery. The first film makes note of the most intense paranormal vision that stigmatised Lorraine, where she felt being the “closest to hell” but does not reveal any details. It is in this film that the opening scene provides us with all the answers and its psychological and practical aftermath intertwines with the case under investigation.

For the first half of the film we become familiar with the paranormal activities and the psychological profiles of the family members in addition to the Lorraine’s personal struggles who is convinced she has received a serious warning that she is more than unwilling to disrespect. After the first hour the family receives the so deserved help (although doubts are never absent as to the sincerity of the possessed individual), however my thoughts at that point was that I have seen enough of the old man and anticipated the nun’s reappearance on my screen, despite the fact that her physic had scared me to death…The twist at the end refreshing compared to the most common plots out there, but nevertheless a true leap of paranormal imagination. Is it perhaps my inexperience with the genre that prevents me from accepting that a vicious demon dressed as a nun trapped the spirit of an old man (that lacks dental health and vision) to do the dirty work for him…

The scene I enjoyed most in the film was undoubtedly Lorraine’s encounter with the spooky demo/nun in the office, where the smart visual game with Ed’s painting kept you tight and tense. Another beautiful scene was that of Ed’s (successful and sweet) attempt to sing and imitate Elvis in the song “Can’t Help falling in love”. This scene, where the family is reunited under the familiar tunes of a happier and carefree past (before the parents’ divorce and subsequent deprivation of Elvis’ records) is the oasis in the desert of constant terrorism that stems from the spiritual world and the uncertainty of their future. Ed’s voice projects his kindness and Lorraine’s expression her pride for her partner’s efforts to entertain this long-suffering family.

I have to admit at this point that I watched the film in plain day light, and that must have played its part in relaxing my nerves, as the light functioned as a constant reminder of my surroundings. Perhaps this is the reason why towards the end, after the revelation of the plot twist and while facing the most tormenting question, as to whether Lorraine’s premonition is to be fulfilled (and thus thoughts about “The Conjuring 3” would be lost forever in another dimension…) I lost my focus on the terrifying elements and laughed. I found the extermination of the demon so painfully simplistic that left me wondering why was such an accomplished demon so easily intimidated by hearing his name out loud. If that is the case then I am sure such a powerful (thus experienced ?) demon would not reveal his name if that, along with a cross-waving are sufficient for its distraction.

Overall the viewing experience was intense and the plot thick, which compensates for a disappointing 10 minute finale. However, I am certain that watching the film in the dark and especially in one’s lonesome leaves the viewer with an even more haunting sensation that I wasn’t brave enough to face…