Hidden Netflix Gems – Sheitan

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

After decades of nothing but the excellent 1960 art film Eyes Without a Face, the French cinema has been outdoing itself over the course of the past several years in producing some of the best, most extreme and disturbing horror films in existence. Beginning in 2003 with Alexandre Aja’s relentlessly brutal High Tension, the past decade has also produced, among others, the terrifying but strangely beautiful Inside and the unspeakably violent Martyrs, which is one of the most fiercely anti-religious films ever made. Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan (or Satan, if that wasn’t obvious enough) is a distinctly different breed of horror film from these previous three examples, dispensing for the most part with the graphic gore in favor of unsettling atmosphere and perverse, disturbing humor. It is scary in the way that late-period David Lynch films are scary, thrusting the viewer into a surreal nightmare world from which there can be no escape but outright madness.

Sheitan opens in the disorienting underworld of a Parisian nightclub on Christmas Eve, its cinematography mildly reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (by far the most disturbing non-horror film France has produced in the past decade), where Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) and his two friends, Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan) and Ladj (Ladj Ly), drink and attempt to pick up women. Bart has already had too much to drink, and he quickly becomes belligerent to the point where a bartender has to crack a bottle over his head and forcibly eject him. The three friends and two women, Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) and Eve (Roxane Mesquida), then decide to take the party back to Eve’s home in the country, where they meet her constantly grinning housekeeper, Joseph (Vincent Cassel), and the seductive Jeanne (Julie-Marie Parmentier), both of whom seem friendly but oddly frightening right from the start.

From there, things only get stranger and more frightening, as it becomes clear that Joseph’s jovial grin hides sinister plans for the four big city outsiders, especially Bart. The film opens with the modified quote, “Lord, do not forgive them, for they know what they do,” and there is a sense that Bart is being singled out by the demonic Joseph for his especially godless ways, whereas Thai, Ladj and Yasmine are all Muslims (though Thai is non-practicing). At any rate, he’s such a huge jerk that it’s rather difficult to feel sympathy for him, even as the film gets darker and more gruesome. As a narrative, it’s rather incoherent and disjointed, and it’s hard to tell where the film’s moral center truly lies, but as a visually stylish descent into a bizarre world of nightmarish imagery, Sheitan works marvelously well. There are images that will haunt you for days, and Cassel’s performance is a masterful essay in the fiendishly strange.

  

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Friday film news dump, pre-Halloween edition

christopherlee

So much going on today that, unless my Google Reader is lying to me, not a single one of the many film sites and blogs on my list of usual suspects has mentioned that Christopher freaking Lee was knighted today. (I, however, will be paying my respects in the next post.)

Meanwhile….

* The biggest news of the day was expected, I guess. The New York offices of the once might mini-major Miramax, founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and since sold off to Disney, have been closed and the annual slate of films significantly downsized. In addition, the division’s “prexy” Daniel Battsek is stepping down, though he is supposed to be supervising the consolidation of the NYC and L.A. offices through January and no replacement has been set. Not surprising in tough times for “small” films. Anne Thompson partially blames what you might call movie mission creep, among other factors.

The main problem with the studio sub-divisions that are being slashed if not eliminated is that they simply don’t return enough on investment. They inevitably drift away from small-scale divisions that push low-budget films into more ambitious upscale operations with more employees and more overhead. With growth comes bigger budgets, more P & A, wider releases, more grandiose Oscar campaigns and often, smaller profits.

Her entire piece is definitely worth a look as she mentions how even some seemingly successful award pictures as “There Will Be Blood” and “Doubt” became money losers or earned less than you might think due to marketing costs and award campaigns.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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1960, the year graphic horror broke, part 3

So, as we saw in part 1 of this brief series of trailers inspired by this week’s box office rivalry between “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw VI,” in England in 1960 director Michael Powell made an artful but, at least by today’s standards, gently disturbing film — without a speck of blood or gore — about a sympathetic serial killer. The film scandalized the press and essentially ended his British filmmaking career, despite his status, apparently forgotten, as arguably the greatest English director. Around the same time, in part 2, we saw that France’s Georges Franju made an ultra-creepy tragedy with a notorious surgery scene that took decades to develop its international reputation as a horror classic.

In the U.S., Michael Powell’s old contemporary, Alfred Hitchcock, took on a film with a very similar killer to “Peeping Tom.” However, his approach was sneakier. First, we became sympathetic, then we learned who was actually doing it. The angle of voyeurism was present, but downplayed. But as for blood — well, in just under three minutes Hitch broke one small taboo by showing a toilet and by the end, he made it acceptable to show a naked women being hacked to death on screen in a mainstream Hollywood film. He was already probably the most famous director in the world but, as a result, he became even richer and more famous and as identified with horror as he had already been with suspense. The sad part is, I’d argue that “Psycho” isn’t nearly as good a movie as “Peeping Tom,” though I know that’s a controversial statement and I say it as a huge fan of Mr. Hitchcock.

On the other hand, the promotion of Hitch’s film was a million times better and more canny than “Peeping Tom.” That, my friends is how movie history usually works. And now, my vote for the greatest, smartest movie trailer of all time. Don Draper himself must have been impressed.

  

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1960, the year graphic horror broke, part 2

Another trailer from the year when, all of a sudden, major filmmakers around the world started to go where almost no one had gone before cinematically.

Georges Franju’s haunting “Eyes Without a Face” certainly doesn’t rely on graphic horror. However, it’s highly clinical skin grafting scene reportedly terrified audiences and — full disclosure — caused me to look at the New Beverly’s historic floor for the entire length of the scene. (I did the same thing for half an hour when they showed my class the notorious “Red Asphalt” in school.)

Still, that scene would I’m sure be tame by today’s standards  as it managed to pass through the censorship of the day. True, it wasn’t a major worldwide hit — in the U.S., it was retitled and sent out in 1962 on the bottom of a double bill with a low-budget U.S-Japanese horror programmer, “The Manster.” Still, you can’t keep a great film down forever. It stands for me as one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater not just because the movie is so terribly creepy, but also because it’s so terribly sad.

  

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