Solomon Kane (2009)

| | Action-Adventure/Dark Fantasy | France/Spain/UK 2009 | USA 2012


At first he thought that it was the shadow of a man who stood in the entrance; then he saw that it was a man himself, though so dark and still he stood that a fantastic semblance of shadow was lent him by the guttering candle.

—Robert E. Howard, Red Shadows


§.00 Michael J. Bassett’s dark fantasy adaptation of Robert Howard’s work begins 39 years before the publications of the Bay Psalm Book, and 19 years before the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, with the pirate Solomon Kane (James Purefoy), who, along with his band of bloodthirsty privateers, lays seige to a unnamed Ottoman stronghold. Kane is utterly ruthless in battle. In one scene, he delivers a thrust to a Ottoman soldier’s neck and, sadistically amused, drags the dying man along like a macabre puppet before the his horrified comrades.

When Kane’s band penetrates the stronghold’s defenses and make way to the throne room they are assailed by demons; panic ensues; Kane tells them to hold the line. One of his men defies him and makes for the exit, whereupon he is promptly slain by Kane who declares, “I am the only devil here!”

After this incident Kane enters the throne room but the doors shut behind him. He hears the howling of his men and grimaces, knowing that demons have set upon them. Alone, he turns to the gilded treasure spilt upon the floor of the throne room and is hailed by a demon who introduces itself as the ‘devil’s reaper,’ and declares that it has come to claim Kane’s soul, which is forfeit due to his villainy. The reaper then instructs Kane to submit. Kane, however, refuses to give himself over to the aberration, and escapes.

Sometime later, Kane makes his way to a monastery and turns to a contemplative life of Puritanism and good works. His newfound dedication to being “a man of peace,” however, is tested when a group of travelers with whom he forms a bond is waylaid by demonic brigands under the command of the satanic sorcerer, Malachi (a ominously tattooed Jason Flemyng).

§.01 The central strength of the film is Purefoy’s performance, which is superb throughout. Added to this is the atmosphere, aptly realized through real-location filming, Klas Badelt’s score, which is alternatively (and suitably) rousing and grim, and an able supporting cast (including, Peter William Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Max Von Sydow and Rachel Hurd-Wood).

§.02 The central weakness in the film is its flimsy penultimate conclusion. The addition of a gigantic metallic fire demon that looked like it walked off the set of Warcraft presented two problems, the first being that it [the demon] has no heft or solidity (unlike the reaper from the beginning of the film); never does the creature appear like it might snatch up the swift-dashing Kane, rather the distinct impression is that if it were to grasp him, it would phase right through the man’s body. Secondarily (and more importantly), the addition of the fire-demon detracts from Kane’s interaction with Malachi, who has just been introduced on-screen, after half a film’s worth of build-up. Malachi, after being introduced, swiftly vanishes (through the use of his magic) and then, when he finally reappears, holding Meredith as a human shield, focus is removed from him once again, and placed upon the lava monster. It is strange to see a character who is not the focal point of their own scene, especially when they are so pivotal to the plot.

§.03 The aforementioned issues are, however, thankfully brief and do little to detract from my generally positive opinion of the film. Its much better than its trailer made it out to be.


In 2010, Solomon Kane was adapted as a novel by British fantasy author, Ramsay Campbell (published by Titan Books).

30 Days of Night (2007) | Review

| | Action, Horror, Thriller, Supernatural | 19 October 2007 (USA)

Direction: David Slade | Cinematography: Jo Willems | Music: Brian Reitzell

Writing: Steve Niles, Brian Nelson & Stuart Beattie (read script here)

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Danny Huston, Melissa George


30 Days of Night follows the exploits of vampire-attack survivors lead by Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) in the Alaskan town of Barrow in the midst of a month-long polar night.


30 Days of Night is not scary (I find films like State of Play far more unnerving) but it is effective in establishing a atmosphere of unrelenting depression and vain desperation. This bleak tone is established through the isolation of the frigid clime, the psychological anguish of its principal characters and the unflinching manner in which the film depicts their manifold dispatchment at the hands of the vampires (even when they try and help the beasts, as in the case of The Stranger).

Marlow (Danny Huston), the leader of the vampires that attack the town, is most emblematic of the film’s Zapffeian metaphysics. When Kirsten Toomey (Camille Keenan) is used as bait by the monsters to draw out the remaining survivors, she breaks down and begs for mercy. “Please, God…” she moans. Marlow leans coldly towards her. “God?” He queries opaquely, glancing at the soundless sky and then back at the weeping woman. “No god.” In another scene, during a home invasion, Marlow states to a terrified man, “There is no escape. No hope. Only hunger and pain.”

The counterpoint to this pessimism is ensconced in the character of Sheriff Eben Oleson (played with impressive authenticity by Josh Hartnett).

Whereas Marlow kills and devours his own companion when she is crippled from injury, remarking “That which can be broken must be broken,” Eben continuously intervenes to protect the few surviving townsfolk with little regard for his own safety, going so far as to inject himself with vampire blood to ‘turn’ himself so as to better combat Marlow’s brood, despite possessing full knowledge of what such a grotesque transformation entails. It is in Eben’s final act that the tone of film turns from vain pessimism to fatalistic prometheanism, declaring the valor inherent in willful self-sacrifice.

Its a competent film, well written, scored and acted, visceral and gripping that has aged well (save for the uncanny valley CGI oil which looks like cartoon nutella) and has considerably more to mull over than the typical Hollywood monster fare.


The film was adapted from a comic book series of the same name.

The Ghost & The Darkness (1996) | Review

| | Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Creature-feature | 11 October 1996 (USA)

Direction: Stephen Hopkins | Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond | Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Script: William Goldman | Inspired by: The Man-eaters of Tsavo by John Henry Patterson

Starring: Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Tom Wilkinson, John Kani, Bernard Hill, Henry Cele, Brian McCardie, Om Puri


Summary: Tasked with overseeing the construction of a East African railway bridge for the British Empire in 1898, Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) heads to Tsavo where his workers swiftly come under attack by two ferocious man-eating lions. Work slows and the men begin to believe that the animals are no mere lions, but rather, demons. Patterson enlists the aid of the famed hunter Remington (Michael Douglas), and together they set upon an arduous quest to end the maneater’s reign of terror.


In 1996 Roger Ebert gave The Ghost & The Darkness one-and-a-half star out of four and wrote, “‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ is an African adventure that makes the Tarzan movies look subtle and realistic. It lacks even the usual charm of being so bad it’s funny. It’s just bad.” Suffice to say he hated the film (though Siskel appreciated it).

My assessment was (and remains) the complete opposite of Ebert’s, whose review I mention due his assertion that the film was unrealistic. In the serious consideration of any film which purports to be rigorously based off of, or loosely inspired by, real events (as The Ghost & The Darkness does) it is important to establish at the outset just how fantastical it really is (else one could reasonably cry foul and criticize the piece for false advertising). The Ghost & The Darkness falls decidedly into the ‘inspired by’ category, as it is certainly based on real events and yet plays fast and loose with several matters of historical record (chiefly in its inclusion of the character, Remington, who was created for the film and has no real-life antecedent in so far as I am aware). That being said, the maneaters of Tsavo did exist, they were lions and they killed around the same number of people in the film as in real life (more actually). John Henry Patterson also existed, was a engineer as well as a Lt. Col. and did indeed hunt the beasts of Tsavo in 1898 after they killed his men. There is nothing which occurs within the film which is impossible, and very few moments of extraordinary activity (that which stretches believability most is perhaps the assertion that the lions are hunting primarily for the pleasure of killing, though even this can be girded by noting that felines, like humans, sometimes kill, not for food, but for fun).

One of the fascinating aspects of the film which further instantiate the work in the realist genre is its depiction of various period firearms such as Remington’s hefty yet compact howdah pistol (side arm named after the howdah elephant mount, used for close combat against tigers and lions) and Patterson’s now-rare BSA Lee-Speed sporting rifle.

In relation to the narrative itself, the pacing is excellent (neither too swift, nor too fast), the music atmospheric, the performances decent (in the case of Wilkinson) to excellent (in the case of Kilmer), the tension palpable and the lions very plausibly rendered. Patterson’s creative contractions were one of my favorite parts of the film, specifically the fact that, though they initially failed (through no fault of his own), Remington congratulates him, noting that they were a good idea, regardless of whether or not they work, a subtle recommendation to exhaust all possible creative solutions in pressing situations, rather than being bound, slavelike, to the millstone of ‘common sense.’


Script of William Goldman’s The Ghost & The Darkness

Film Review: The Bone Snatcher (2002)

*** SPOILERS


Having read the deplorably cheezy tagline: It will scare you out of your skull. and being a SyFy original, my expectations for The Bone Snatcher were quite low. I was pleasantly surprised.


Directed by Jason Wulfsohn, written by Malcolm Kohll and Gordon Render and starring Warrick Grier and a bunch of people I had never seen nor heard of, The Bone Snatcher follows the exploits of a talented but mousey systems analyst, Dr. Zach Straker (Scott Bairstow) who is tasked with moving from Canada to the South African Namib Desert to aid a geological survey team after several members of their crew go missing. There he meets the imposing and steely Karl (Warrick Grier), the beautiful and headstrong, Mikki (Rachel Shelley), the superstitious and perpetually ponderous Titus (Patrick Shai), a mouthy driver and a guy who is apparently only in the film to be the first on-screen person to be bonesntached. Once Karl discovers the corpses of his colleagues he is enraged and vows to find their killers. It soon becomes apparent that what killed them is not human when Karl spies a hideous being stalking through the desert. He shoots it and it vanishes, as if into the very air. Shortly, the creature begins picking off the team one by one, forcing Straker, Mikki, Karl and Titus to put aside their differences and formulate a plan to kill it before it steals their bones…

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Straker.
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Mikki.
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Karl.
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Karl discovers the remains of his team, stripped of flesh.
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Karl scopes the bone snatcher but guns prove ineffectual for dealing with the monstrosity.
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Nooo! Character whose name I don’t remember got bonesnatched!
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The Bone Snatcher.

Impressions & Overview

Though critically panned (it used to be the hip thing for the movie literati to bash Scifi original movies, regardless of their content or quality) I found The Bone Snatcher to be quite enjoyable and far more substantive than I thought it would be. One of the benefits of any survival horror movie is the raising of the question: What would you do in such a situation? Would you act as the meek and attemptedly calculating Straker? The even-keel Mikki? The doomsaying Titus? The by-the-book driver Magda? Or would you strike out for revenge like Karl? Furthermore, the scenery is often quite breathtaking (the film was shot in Cape Town and the deserts of Namibia. Though the film is never scary (which it should have been since it billed itself as a “horror” film) it is very atmospheric and tense with a decent soundtrack and some moments of surprisingly good acting (especially from Warrick Grier who I hope, in the future, to see receiving considerably more starring roles).

The Acting, Characters & Dialogue

The acting is uniformly solid. One of the main problems that some viewers may run into, however, is the strong Afrikaans accents, which may warrant the utilization of subtitles (especially in the introduction to the main geological team members, there was so much mumbling and accent it was like they were speaking a completely different language).

The protagonist of the film, Straker, is boring and tepid and does almost nothing of importance throughout the entire film, yet, it is these very qualities that make him believable and help markedly to ground the fantastical elements of the film, namely the bone-snatching creature itself, in reality. Early on in the film after the first attack by the creature, Straker losses his cool, he’s almost perpetually terrified throughout, even as he tries to focus and craft a logical plan of action.

The standout of the entire film, for me, was Warrick Grier as the hotblooded and fearsome team leader, Karl.  He, together with Straker, have the best moment in the entire film when Karl erupts, “There are no bears in Africa!” and Straker responds, “I know that, Kaaaaarl!” It would be impossible to replicate the tone of the scene so I suggest you watch the film for the full effect, it had me rolling with laughter.

Central Themes

The central theme of the film is teamwork, as none of the members of the crew being stalked by the bone snatcher seem able to agree upon anything, later, after one of them is killed there is a sequence whereupon various characters keep drawing guns upon each other and shouting about how so-and-so is going too far or losing it. All of the characters who bicker and refuse to work in tandem end up dead which I read as the scriptwriters declaring, “If you behaved this aberrantly when a giant bug-bone monster was trying to kill you, you’d end up dead. Form up, or fall down.” And they’re right.

The Creature

Being a creature-feature, we would be remiss if we did not specifically remark upon the titular Bone Snatcher itself. The ant-bone amalgamation is, whilst in no-wise scary (at least it wasn’t to me) a fantastic looking creation (and yes, the “creature” is just a bunch of ants, if you hadn’t guessed from the promo poster for the film, which, though cool, is rather too plot-revealing!). Some of the shots of The Snatcher itself are not CGI but rather a man in a suit (Brian Claxton Payne) and these, in my opinion, are the best in the film (the CGI in the film was very uncanny valley and at times looked like stop-motion which was distracting). The reveal that the creature was an amalgam of prehistoric killer ants was obvious but inventive. What I kept wondering, however, was, how were the ants aided by forming a humanoid mass? Straker says they do it for “survival” but how, precisely? We never really find out and that’s disappointing.

Summation

If you enjoy survival horror action films like Pitch Black (which TBS strongly reminded me of) that are more concerned with atmosphere and character than they are with guts, gore or superfluous jump scares, you might well enjoy The Bone Snatcher.

Film Review | Hellraiser: Judgment | 2018

***this post contains spoilers

“I knew what I wanted to make, and I felt like ‘you know what, I wrote a traditional Hellraiser story with Revelations and I got raped by the fans. I’m not going to try and appease the fans anymore.’ I’m going to make a film for me and I have a very strong idea visually on where I want to go with the story and its going to be very different. I’m going to make a food for me and offer everybody a bite.” (“Interview with Gary J Tunnicliffe”60 Minutes WithArchived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.)

The Hellraiser films are not so much a “series” (as in, a continuation of a story or set of stories) as they are a reworking of various different motifs and considerably smaller number of characters into completely self-contained vesicles (which I do not mean as either a good or bad thing, it is simply the best description which occurs to me). The only consistency throughout all of the films and what holds them all together is the presence of the mysterious puzzle-box known as the Lament Configuration and the bizarre, other-dimensional beings known as the Cenobites (koinos, “common”, bios, “life” | used to refer to members of a communal, religious order).

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Hellraiser mainstay, Pinhead; leader of the Cenobites, the “High Priest of Hell.”

Of the 10 films to date, only Hellraiser (1st in the franchise), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser: Bloodline (4th) and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (6th) can be considered any kind of proper series (Hellseeker only because it features the return of Kirsty Cotten, the protagonist of Hellraiser 1 & 2). This is especially true of the fifth installment, Inferno, which, though a very good movie, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of the preceding films in the series, save for the cenobites (and they are all different save for the Chatterer – who lost his legs somehow – and Pinhead, who only shows up at the end of the film). Despite the disparate styles and plots of the various films, they (by and large) maintained a continuous mystique and consistently raised questions concerning the principal motivating factor in human activity: Desire. After the abysmal outing that was Hellraiser: Revelation (9th in the franchise) – despite it’s excellent script – I was interested to see what the talented FX artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe could do with Barker’s material in the capacity of writer/director.

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Hellraiser: Judgment (10th in the franchise), was released in 2018 and was directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, produced by Michael Leahy and was created with roughly the same budget (approx. $300,000) as its predecessor. I had absolutely no idea what the budget for this movie was before seeing it and never once did a single thing throughout my viewing thereof ever appear “cheap.” It is also worth noting that the idea (floated by some critics and reviewers) that around $300,000 is a “small budget” speaks volumes of the excess which is bred by a distance from any real fiscal instability, from any real poverty and the unabated hunger for spectacle for its own sake.

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The plot of the film centers around three detectives, two brothers and woman, who are hunting down a serial killer known as The Preceptor, who kills according to the Bible. Every murder committed by The Preceptor corresponds to a particular “sin” described in the ten commandments and if that sounds almost identical to Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Se7en that’s because it is. The generic (and often uneventful) police procedural is, thankfully, interspliced with numerous scenes of a otherword which we later learn is Hell. This extradimensional realm is, as per usual, populated by the ominous cenobites as well as another group of peculiar beings known as the Stygian Inquisition who appear to be headed by a horribly scarred and bespectacled human-like creature called The Auditor, who is responsible for processing the souls of those desired by Hell. The Auditor’s task is accomplished by sitting across from the prospect and inquiring into the nature of their past to unearth their sins whereupon the hell-clerk will type up a thorough documentation of the individual’s misdeeds on a typewriter affixed, not with paper, but human flesh. Ink is dispensed with for blood.

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The Auditor as portrayed by G. J. Tunnicliffe.

Two storylines run in concert. The first is that of detectives Sean & David Carter who are looking for a serial killer and who are quickly joined by a female detective named Egerton who is brought on by the higher-ups to both the expedite the case as well as keep an eye on Sean (who suffers from PTSD and turns to the bottle). The second storyline follows the Auditor processing souls in hell with the aid of various other grotesque and bizarre entities. The outer realm and the mundane collide when the Auditor absconds into his pocket dimension with Sean.

Process of the Stygian Inquisition.

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The Auditor.
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The Assessor.
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The Jury.
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The Cleaners.
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The Butcher.
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The Surgeon. The last processor of the Stygian Inquisition.

Sean unintentionally puts a damper on the Auditor’s plans when he declares that “no one can judge him but God.” Shortly thereafter, a angel named Jophiel appears and demands that The Auditor release Sean, stating that God has plans for him. The Auditor is confused and reluctant, greeting the angel kindly but coldly. Shortly thereafter The Auditor seeks council with Pinhead, the leader of the cenobites about what to do concerning the angel and the human. Pinhead asks where Sean is and they both return to the rooms of the acquisition only to discover that the detective escaped. Later it is revealed that the Preceptor is none other than Sean and that the reason he was killing those who had broken the ten commandments was due to his intense religiosity and hatred for the modern world. Pinhead seeks to claim the deranged detective’s soul but the angel Jophiel intercedes once more and demands the man’s release; God wants him out in the world, deeming those he kills to be “acceptable losses.” Pinhead, knowing that Egerton will shoot Sean given that she knows he is the killer, upon his return to earth, happily obliges and Sean is swiftly dispatched by the police woman just as planned. This infuriates the angel who then threatens the cenobite.

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Detective Egerton.

Pinhead, however, is none to happy being threatened with “pain” and decides to torture and dismember the angel and, after sufficient suffering, kills her. All the while the Auditor had been slinking and when the angel is dead he moves to the cenobite’s side and notes that he should not have acted so rashly, for God will surely punish him. Indeed, this is just what happens as a bright, white light envelopes Pinhead, who is transformed into a human and banished from Hell, forced to live amongst the mortals, presumably, for the rest of his days. He cries out at the loss of his “sweet suffering” and then screams. Credits rolls and at their end two Mormon missionaries appear at a house in Germany, peddling their creed, once the door is opened the Auditor’s voice is heard, welcoming them in and signalling that they are soon to be processed by the Stygian Inquisition. It is here that the film ends.

Whilst nowhere near as dense in symbolism and metaphor as some other Barker-inspired films such as The Midnight Meat Train, the film does offer some peculiar and unexpected critiques. One of the most unexpected to me was the criticism of the “anti-modern savior” in the character of Sean Carter, The Preceptor. Whilst his religiosity and hatred of other human beings acts as Sean’s primary source of motivation (especially when coupled with his desire for revenge against his brother and wife who were having a affair behind his back), he also takes sadistic pleasure in what he does, despite the fact that he feels considerable remorse afterwards (as he states in his confessions to The Auditor). Sean’s revenge against his traitorous brother and wife is understandable and his disdain towards those who act wholly without any moral consideration, is also, if not righteous, again, understandable. Yet, at one point later in the film, when he confronts his brother, he screams that he would kill every single human being alive if he was able due their sinfulness, completely neglecting his own past transgressions (beating his dog, slaughtering other humans in war, torturing and murdering those who broke the ten commandments) and the fact that he is precisely the kind of monstrous personality he decries. Sean then is, in many ways, analogous to the self-righteous religious radicals who use the phrase “modernity” with disgust and style themselves as revolutionaries despite being wholly chained to a tradition which has never even existed, those who state how much they cannot stand the modern world, even as it sustains them, those who state that they hate everyone, even as they spout fascicle platitudes of brotherhood and unity under God; those whose plans for change all invariably boil down to nothing more than murder and violent repression on a monumental scale which is always permissible so long as they are the ones carrying it out and so long as it is done in the name of their favored deity (who can, of course, do no wrong, and they, as the instruments of providence, likewise are absolved of all). Unlike this common crop of self-loathing, hypocritical, hysteric, psychologically damaged loons, Sean is, at least, willing to admit his murderous intentions. This vain, human wailing is sharply contrasted by the opening of the film which shows Pinhead and The Auditor discussing the increasingly outmoded nature of the Lament Configurations; they note that the interconnectivity of technological systems has rendered the puzzle boxes relatively ineffective as conduits of desire; people aren’t interested in rituals and puzzle boxes anymore, but rather, the liminal sea of the internet. Instead of bemoaning this, the two denizens of the outer world see this as a opportunity to try out new methods of their own, namely the pocket-dimension houses of the Stygian Inquisition who lure their victims via internet transmissions. Where The Preceptor flails and cries out, the cenobites and the inquisition adapt. And yet, just like many humans, Pinhead falls victim to his own hubris whereas The Auditor never overplays his hand and it is for this reason that it is he alone who stands triumphant at the end of the picture.

What is most interesting about The Auditor, in terms of his personality, was how polite and dutiful he was, in contrast to the cenobite, Chatterer, who is erratic and violent when unconstrained by his master; so much so that when Sean helps hurry the auditing procedure along, The Auditor treats him kindly, gifting him a reward of inhuman knowledge; yet he is, at the same time, completely sanguine about inflicting suffering, if it is necessary to complete his task. This contrasts with the cenobites who enjoy suffering for its own sake. “I am a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency,” The Auditor states flatly, during his interrogation of the child murderer Watkins, who had been reticent in divulging his sins, “I will spend some on you… if you like?” One can easily image The Auditor as having been a overzealous DMV worker in his previous, human life.

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“DMV? How dare you use that word. I am the DMV.”

It was a thoroughly enjoyable film, well-crafted and with something to say. I’d recommend it.

 

Alienation, Elitism & Lived-Art in The Midnight Meat Train | Part 2

THE KEEPERS OF OUTER DARK

Interspliced with Leon’s break from society and descent into the heart of the city, are numerous sequences featuring the subway killer, a man who is referred to only as Mahogany. Mahogany, unlike many contemporary horror film antagonists, is not a raving lunatic, rather, he is restrained, dutiful and immaculate, keeping to a schedule as regular as the train which he nightly frequents with horrific and bloody consequence. Also unlike many other horror movie villains, Mahogany is not driven by lust or rage or some insane fantasy, but by compulsion from his superiors, namely, the icy and nameless conductor of the eponymous train. During one scene where Mahogany struggles to kill one of the passengers on the train (one of only two times in the film he meets a foe who can match his considerable martial prowess, the other being Leon after being marked by the subterranean organisms), the conductor intercedes as Mahogany grapples with the passenger, shooting the passenger through the head, killing him and regarding Mahogany severely, “I’m very dissapointed in you, Mahogany. Clean up the mess.” It is here that we are first introduced to the conductor and also shown that our grim serial killer is not really in control, but rather, is merely a duteous, if very efficient, employee. Here is also where the first parallel between Leon and the butcher makes itself apparent. Mahogany is following orders from the conductor, just as Leon is following orders from Hoff. The principal difference is that whilst Leon’s actions are constrained by the norms and conventions of broader society, Mahogany’s actions are constrained only by the orders of the conductor and his subterranean masters. In this sense Mahogany is more “free” (less constrained by external pressures) than the protagonist, but it is difficult to say if he is better off. The question: “What cage would you rather be inside of than without,” here presents itself.

Mahogany is possessed of superhuman strength and longevity, protection from the police (who have been infiltrated by the agents of the subterraneans) and, presumably, ample funding (that or he has merely been saving up his money for a long time for those fancy suits, among other things, would require considerable upkeep). In his character one finds a certain parallel with Patrick Bateman, both smartly dressed, well-heeled and murderous corporate workers, who exist among the upper echelons of their respective societies, both vampiric egregores of a Hollywood-consumer culture that has never really existed, or rather, exists only because of those selfsame egregores. Yet he distinguishes himself from a character like Bateman via his loyalty to purpose, his sacral duty to feed the subterraneans. Though the precise arrangement between Mahogany, the other members of his order and the monsters is not detailed, it is stated (by the conductor) that the secret of the subterraneans must be kept by the ring-wearers through ritual sacrifice, implying that Mahogany and the conductor (and later Leon) are actually doing a service to the outer world by protecting them from the threat below which functions as a metaphor that there are indeed something that it were better that most people do not know and that it is the purpose of those special few who can bear the psychic trauma (Mahogany, Leon, the conductor and the police woman) of that knowing to protect them from it.

Alienation, Elitism & Lived-Art in The Midnight Meat Train | Part 1

“I was like a kid in a candy store any time we filmed the scary bits. The one thing that did make me cringe was the pierced Achilles tendons, having severed my own five years ago playing basketball…” – Bradley Cooper.

INTRODUCTION

Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train1, released in 2008 and first shot in New York City, and then Los Angeles, stands apart from the glut of contemporary mainstream horror films through both the caliber of its acting, the peculiarity of its story, the deft craftsmanship of its design and, most singularly, its symbolic elements, its metaphors. Ryuhei said of his film, “The film will speak for itself when it comes out no matter where you see it. It is my best film to date and I am proud of myself, my crew, my cast and my producers.” (The Cannibal Express, James Grainger, Rue Morgue, No 81, August 2008). Speak for itself it does, but only to one possessed of a keen ear, for what Ryuhei and Barker have created is nothing like the b-movie the title would suggest. Lucid-dreams, cthonic calls, subterreanean beings, a century-old cold-case, corporate repression, masculinity, art and the inability to produce it, all act as pieces to a puzzle that becomes more and more starkly evident with every subsequent viewing. However, before we delve into the contents of the film itself it would be useful to turn to the bar-to-entry from any serious consideration of such a work, principally, the name itself and the Hollywood snobery that turns up its nose at it. Snobbery is distinct from elitism as-such, in that elitism is the assertion that certain individuals and groups are more apt at certain things than others and that those more capaple persons will or should be positioned in a beneficial placement where their attributions may shine. Snobbery, in constrast, is the belief that those things which occur outside of one’s cultural (typically class-related) purview of approval, for whatever reason (it is generally a matter of unconsidered tradition), are not to be taken seriously and further, are to be derided. To be elitist in the arts is merely to say some works are better than others and why; to be a snob is to say, such and such works can never be good, can never be taken seriously.

Given that the name of the film instantly conjures up visions of schlocky retro-exploitation horror such as big-breasted women soused in blood, screaming and running through the woods in highheels only to trip on a bizarrely elevated root, unbelievable smatterings of blood, copious quantities of drug use, inexplicable cat jump-scares and masked killers with chainsaws, some trepidation is warranted (even though the film is more mystery/thriller, than action-romp, at least until its final act). That the film plays out in a serious fashion and at no point ever firmly plants its tongue in its cheek is another strike against it in the eyes of the would-be arbiters of cinema. How dare it take itself seriously! How dare a horror movie have its principal characters behave like real human beings! Such is the sentiment that is hinted at, if not outright expressed, in many stodgy reviews of the film from glossy and sundry publications. One of the film’s most dour reviews which I was able to find came from the site Deep Focus Review and was penned by a one Brian Eggert who gave the film 1 stars out of 5. Eggert remarked that:

Some ideas [in the film] make sense, others remain vague allusions, and others still are altogether nonsensical—all of it is awash by Barker’s penchant for humorless characters sopping with melodramatic relationships (not to mention gallons of blood). When moviegoers in my screening should have been cringing, they were laughing.2 How could they not, when Barker insists that we take his concept as gravely as he does, despite the inherent silliness of the plot? Kudos to you if you can take a movie called The Midnight Meat Train seriously. I can’t.”

The idea that a film cannot be “serious” if it has a peculiar name or if its plot is not hyper-real or based solely in the real-world, or if it contains “vague allusions” (which Eggert doesn’t even attempt to excavate) is one that Barker himself has remarked upon. During a interview with Cinema Is Dope on the state of horror-cinema at the 42nd Sitges Film Festival, Mr. Barker said, “I think we went through a very bad period, didn’t we? When it seemed like horror had become Michael Bay3 territory. All that we were going to see was remakes of Sean Cunningham4 projects, reworked with Paris Hilton5 and some new special effects. And I think audiences are more sophisticated than that. I think the appitie for fresh horror, for fresh images, for fresh ideas, for fresh metaphysics, is strong. I’m fed up with us – and when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘audience’; I’m counting myself as a audience member – being condescending to it. I feel as though the producers are condescending to us [the audience]; they’re saying, ‘eh, they’ll be satisfied with Friday The 13th , Part 310.’ Bullshit. Give me something new. Give me something fresh. If that’s an anime, if that’s some hybrid between live-action and anime or some form of cinema that we haven’t even yet seen, why not? The Cinema Fantastique has always been at the cutting-edge of style and of content.”

When the interview noted that horror movies cannot simply be 90 minutes of jump-scares, Mr. Barker replied, “Completely right and… how boring is that! This is a full circle. I mean, we’ve seen this stuff played out; this is back to the 80s again. Right? I mean, this is the 80s playing out again. We need to – we as enthusiasts, passionate purveyors or creators of horror and fantastic cinema – have to stand up and be counted and say, ‘We are not just going to be doing the same old, same old.’”

One wonders if Eggert would have found the film less heavygoing if there were some 4th wall breaks (qua Deadpool) or perhaps some hammy slapstick scenes dropped squat in the middle of real tension (qua Jason X). Eggert’s disdain for The Midnight Meat Train and Barker’s statement about being “fed up” both stem from a similar source: The branding of a particular medium, genre or sub-genre to be unworthy of consideration from the would-be cultural arbiters; formulaically it is: If you make X then X cannot concern itself with Y. A portion of this problem is to be found in the fact that the more people there are (population growth) and the less homogenous a society is (global multiculture) the harder it is to maintain and hand on the symbolic language which affixes particular artistic forms to higher and lower pedestals in the collective conscious of a given polis. Hence phrases like, “It was good, for what it was.” Or, “It wasn’t trying to be more than what it was.” This, at base, is nothing more than a admission that one’s expectations upon cinema have been lowered to such a point that the dullardry of the half-baked rehash and the mindless, incoherent spectecle are the norm, that symbolic or metaphorical content of any impact or magnitude is completely out of the question. From this the annoying penchant for the word “pretentious” to be bandied errantly about like the ball of a petulant child. This mental trajectory is amply demonstrated in a BBC6 article entitled, Film Review: Ocean’s 8 isn’t good, but is it fun? Such a question is symptomatic of what we shall henceforth call Popcorn Mentality, an extension of the pleasure principal as the first and foremost aspiration of a piece of media; pleasure, that is, “fun,” at any cost, above all, above even the apperception thereof. As long as a work of art (if indeed that is what it happens to be7) is “fun” then it was time well spent, even if that “fun” is often merely a by-line for “gaudy distraction.” Any themes contained in such works, dreams crystallized, desires reified, values elevated, are shunted aside, prospective ways of being buried beneath a howling circus of self-gratification, blinding colors and ear-rending sound. Interestingly enough, this popcorn mentality, or gray herdery, is something which is prominently, albiet subtly, featured in The Midnight Meat Train.

ART AS DARK PORTAL

The film begins with a man who awakes on a subway train. He slips and falls, only to discover that what caused imbalance was an enormous pool of blood. Gasping, he rises and spies a man hacking someone to death with what appears to be an oversized industrial meat tenderizer. Cut to Leon Kaufman, the protagonist of the film, a bright-eyed vegan photographer with a beautiful girlfriend and a nice apartment. However, despite his seemingly charming life, Leon has a problem, his photos aren’t getting any attention. Try and try as he might he simply cannot get a gallery showing; that is until his girlfriend Maya tells her well-connected friend Jurgis to set up a meeting between a well known art-dealer named Susan Hoff and the ertswile photographer. Leon is overjoyed. Leon meets Jurgis who tells him not to mention Maya because “Susan likes her artists young, male and single.” Jurgis shortly thereafter clarifies that “the male part really isn’t that important.” When Leon finally meets Susan he apologiezes for his tardiness but she responds, “Punctuality means nothing to me. Its a virtue for the mediocre.” Thus we understand that Hoff is more than just a snob, rather, she intensely cares about the works of art; this is elaborated upon shortly thereafter when Hoff asks Leon to describe his work and explains what interests him. Leon says that the city is his principal interest because “no one has ever captured it, not the way it really is. The heart of it. That’s my goal, that’s my dream.” Hoff responds by telling him that he is failing to achieve his dream. She points out one of Leon’s photographs, a still of a slovenly bum asleep and sliding off his seat towards a crisp and dignified businessman and says that it is melodrama, “arresting but empty” and tells him that he needs to show what happens next, when “the filth touches him (the businessman).” Finally, Hoff instructs Leon, “That next time you find yourself at the heart of the city, stay put, be brave, keeping shooting. Then come see me.” Leon is crestfallen but Jurgis comforts him saying that though she might not have cared for his art work, she didn’t hate it either and saw potential in him. Later that night Leon lies in bed with Maya, contemplating the days encounter and determines that Hoff was right, that he was only skimming the surface of the city, failing to capture enough of its essence, its beauty and horror alike in starkly vivid detail. Maya tells him, in the manner of a well-meaning yet uncomprehending lover, that Hoff was wrong, that his art really was good regardless of what she said. However, Leon disregards Maya’s opinion (as is reasonable given that she isn’t a artist or art critic) and determines to take Hoff’s advice and plung into the depths of the city to capture it in all its majesty and terror. It is notable that the whole impetus for the plot of the film is derived from artistic elitism, to high standards of creation and the willful fullfilment of one’s dreams given that to affirm any artistic standards is somehow verboten (as is aptly demonstrated in most reviews of the film which touch upon Hoff wherein the character is generally described as a “snob” or in otherwise negative terms). That same night Leon has a dream that he is abord a bloodsoaked train, emblematic of the “heart of the city” which he desires to capture. He awakes in the dead of night and traverses the city, wandering through filthy slums where the tatterdemalion denizens of the metropolis wander aimlessly. He spies a young group of thugs smashing a bottle to the ground and decides to follow them into a subway station, snapping pictures along the way. Everything cold. Everything blue. As if Leon is descending into an icy lair. The hoodlums then attempt to rape a young and beautiful asian woman in the train-station; instead of leaping to her aid or raising alarm, Leon, shocked as he is, continues to take pictures in his quest to capture the city as it really is. When the woman finally sees Leon his fugue is broken and he challenges the thugs. The leader ascends the stair for a faceoff but Leon points out the security cameras which the criminals had missed. Understanding that Leon now has the upper hand, they begrudingly leave. The girl thanks Leon and gifts him with a kiss as thanks and then runs off to the train just as the doors are closing. The doors are held open by a tall man with a old suit and a silver ring with a peculiar ensign. Once inside the train, the man with the silver ring removes a stainless steel meat tenderizer from his bag and crushes the woman’s skull.

Leon later discovers through reading the newspaper that the name of the woman whom he had saved is Erika Sakaki, a model. After boarding the train she was never seen again and had been reported missing. Leon runs to the police but they don’t believe him, suspecting that he was stalking Sakaki. He protests and says that he only followed the thugs because he thought they “looked suspicious.” The female officer notes that even if that were so it was curious that he continued to photographer Sakaki even after the brigands had pulled a knife on her; she asks him why he did this and Leon falls silent, unable or unwilling to formulate an answer. Art, intensly felt, is often difficult to externalize, even to one’s self and certianly to others, specifically if they are not well-versed in the symbolic and metaphorical lexicon which one is apt to deploy, thus Leon’s silence, though incriminating, is highly understandable. Leon’s dour fortunes turn swiftly around when he brings his photographs of the attempted gang-rape to Hoff who is enchanted. She declares that they are so good that if he can capture two more images of a similar caliber she will admit him and his work to her group art show which she is holding in three weeks. Delighted Leon heads back into the grimy underbelly of the city only to chance across a man with an old suit and curious silver ring. Later, he puts the pieces of the puzzle together and compares the ring from his most recent photos to the man on the train with Sakaki. A perfect match. The man with the silver ring is the model’s killer. But why? From this point on Leon becomes increasingly obsessed with the man with the silver ring; eventually, Maya confronts him as he tells her that he traced subway disappearences back to over a century ago (which would mean that if the man with the silver ring is responsible for all of them, he’s possessed of a strange longevity) and shakes her violently, telling her that he knows she think he is the killer. Maya, believing him to have lost his mind to his art, determines to get to the bottom of the issue herself and to that end enlists the aid of Jurgis.

It is at this point that Leon is no longer merely attempting to make art; he is living it, and eventually he will become a integral part of the “heart of the city” he so desperately wished to capture.

1The Midnight Meat Train was Ryuhei Kitamura’s first english language film.

2It bares remarking that one film screening is a very small sample size.

3Michael Bay is a American director and producer best known for The Transformers franchise who is oft derided for his exploitative, brassy, shallow and incessantly over-the-top style. His works have also been criticized for excessive product placement.

4Sean S. Cunningham is a American filmmaker who is best known for such horror films as Last House on the Left (1972), which he produced, and Friday The 13th (1980) which he co-created with Victor Miller.

5Paris Hilton, the great granddaughter of Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels, is an American socialite, singer and actress. Though she has been involved in a wide variety of projects, she is often criticized as being “famous for being famous,” or, well known simply due to the wealth she inherited from her family. Her acting has also been criticized, earning her numerous Golden Rasberry Awards throughout the years, a spoof award given out to the worst films of the year by UCLA. During the 30th Golden Rasberry Awards “ceremony” Hilton was selected as “Worst Actress of the Decade,” a category which she “won,” beating out Lindsay Lohan, Mariah Carey, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez. It should be noted that members of the Golden Rasberry Foundation are not actually required to watch the films they critique and lampoon, thus their input, in any serious artistic evaluation of cinema, is next-to worthless.

6BBC stands for The British Broadcasting Corporation.

7Art is the crystallization of a dream in corporeality through creation so as to achieve some end within a broader social context; generally the communication of some fractal portion of the dream which inspired the creation itself. If it is not, at the least, this, then it is assuredly not art at all. This is to say that art is a act of creation which is inherently communal and purposeful but which finds its genesis in the personal, in the dreamworld or mindspace.

A Brisk Review of Clive Barker’s ‘The Midnight Meat Train’

MINOR SPOILERS; watch the feature length film first if you do not want to know essential details concerning the plot here-contained.

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and based upon the 1984 short story of the same name by horror author Clive Barker, The Midnight Meat Train is considerably more than the sum of it’s parts and also much less schlocky than the dreadful (albeit, memorable) title would suggest. The film opens with a man waking up on a bizarrely sterile-looking train; he stands up and shortly thereafter slips and falls flat upon his back only to discover that what he slipped upon was an enormous pool of blood. The viewer is then greeted with the silhouette of man garbed in a darksuit, slaughtering a hapless passenger upon the same train.

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Vinnie Jones as Mahogany.

Cut to Leon (played by Bradley Cooper), our protagonist, a handsome, keen eyed vegan photographer who craves the fame and adoration of the city’s art elite (the city is never named in the film, though it was shot in Los Angeles).

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Bradley Cooper as Leon.

Leon’s principal passion is to photograph the life of the city where he lives in all its gritty and sometimes depressing detail and when his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb), helpfully asks a well-connected friend to get her lover in touch with a big-shot gallery owner (Brooke Shields), Leon is overjoyed.

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Leon and Susan Hoff examining a photograph.

The art-dealer however, finds Leon’s work to be lacking and tells him to delve deeper into the dark heart of the city. He does so and winds up embroiled in a century old cold case that centers around a mysterious butcher-turned-serial-killer with a distinctive silver ring.

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Street confrontation; Mahogany discovers Leon has been tailing him.

The first thing that grabbed my attention about the film was its visual flair, it is incredibly well shot, with a good deal of grim night-shots wherein one is still able to tell what is going on, despite its rather modest budget (which again, just goes to show that one does not require Michael Bay levels of funding to make a excellent, or even simply passable, film). The second high point about the film was the atmosphere and pacing; unlike a great deal of late 2000s horror films that rely heavily on relentless jump-scares and fast and flashy editing (often to the point of incoherence), Midnight Meat Train dispenses with all of that and instead allows its action to unfurl in a slow-simmering fashion. When something dread inspiring occurs it is frightful not because it happened quickly, but because the character or characters that are imperiled are both well-established and allowed to breathe.

Shots are generally long and panning is often used, found-footagesque shaky cam effects are nowhere to be found (thankfully, having seen the seizure inducing mess that was Cloverfield I never want to watch another found-footage film ever again) and there is not a single jumpscare throughout the entire duration of the film (which is refreshing as that is, other than that annoying stock WFHOOSH noise which is often deployed when a killer or monster appears behind a horror movie character, the single most over-used and lazy ways of creating narrative drama).

The acting is also particularly good, Bradley Cooper (who was at the time the film came out, still relatively unknown to the broader public) is mesmerizing and intense as Leon and Vinnie Jones is also quite notable as the mysterious and brooding Mr. Mahogany; I shall say no more about Jones’ character for fear of spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it other than that he only has one line and yet is able to convey a considerable amount of emotion (or lack thereof) with nothing more than slight changes to his facial expression and posture (qua Alain Delon). The weakest link of the cast is, unfortunately, Leslie Bibbs’ Maya who, though a perfectly likable and believable character, seems to be delivering her lines out of sync with everyone else in the film (though it is certainly not a bad performance by any stretch, just the least impressive). Another slight problem arises in terms of the special effects, when large quantities of blood is shown flying through the air it is invariably rendered digitally and though rendered very well, the program used makes it all look quite uncanny-valleyesque which is to say: you know that it is supposed to be blood, but it looks too silky and shiny for you to viscerally react to it in the same fashion as when, in other scenes (such as the opening), certain characters are covered in, or standing on, a fake-blood liquid concoction. But that is quite a minor detail and is hardly so prevalent as to spoil the film.

I should say that if you are a fan of Clive Barker’s works or are merely interested in seeing a non-cliche work of horror with standout performances, fascinating set-pieces, excellent atmosphere and a great deal of emotion, then The Midnight Meat Train might just be something to look into.

***

Author’s note: I found many of the themes in the film interesting and worthy of elaboration but doing so would require revealing sensitive plot points, therefore, I’ll be writing up a more comprehensive analysis shortly.

 

 

Rogue One (2016)

Film criticism is generally held in contempt by the broader public despite it’s popularity. Everyone is a critic! The public declare, bemoaning the endless deconstruction of their beloved sentimental pop culture treasures. However, there is much utility to film criticism, not just as pertains to the artistic appraisal of films one has or might see, but also as pertains to films which one might make themselves. Indeed, the critique of a story – any story – given sufficient deftness, can prove most useful in aiding any storyteller, whether novelist, filmmaker, orator, or so on, in improving his or her work by finding out what narrative works for certain kinds of stories, what tropes are unbelievable/believable, what cliches have grown tiresome, the right way to build a coherent world and to make a story-line consistent, ect. One could go on for sometime but you get the idea. With this in mind let us turn our attention to the second newest Star Wars film, Rogue One.

Unlike the previously reviewed Star Wars reboot, The Force Awakens, Rogue One is a relatively compelling film with likable, three-dimensional characters, a (for the most part) interesting story and a depth of gravity and weight that the previous installment lacked. Whilst I had at first assumed Rogue One to be a sequel to The Force Awakens it is actually a prequel to the events of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the original film in the franchise (though not the “first” chronologically speaking within the canon of the film series itself).

Synopsis.

Rogue One follows the exploits of Jyn Erso, the daughter of a prominent Imperial scientist during the heyday of the Galactic Empire. Erso’s father, Galen Erso, who has left the Empire and taken up a life of idyllic splendor with Jyn and Lyra, his wife, on a lonely but peaceful little planet called Lah’mu. However, their peace is shattered when the sinister Orson Krennic, the Empire’s lead weapon’s developer, lands on the planet with a cortege of armed guards and attempts to court Galen back into service for the development of the Death Star, a weapon that can destroy whole planets. Galen refuses and his wife intervenes, pulling a weapon on Krennic; she is slain by Krennic’s guards and Galen is apprehended. Jyn, however, flees and is able to escape due to the help of the humorously named, Saw Gerrera, a former Rebellion fighter who broke off from the Alliance due to their lack of radicalism.

Many years later Jyn is rescued from a Imperial labor camp by the Rebel Alliance who want her to find her former savior Gerrera who alone is believed to know the location of Galen Erso. Jyn, though hesitant, acquiesces and joins the Rebel Alliance in their quest to find Gerrera, extract Galen and find a way to stop the Empire from deploying Krennic’s planet-killer. What Jyn doesn’t know is that the Rebel’s do not actually want to extract her father, rather, they want to kill him.

Pros.

The plot of the film is slightly more layered than that but such is the essential plot-line. The first thing which struck me was the lack of ham-fisted political messaging throughout the film. The Force Awakens was something of a pulpit for gender politics, with Rey being the primary mouthpiece for their propaganda. Rey, embodied the Superman conundrum: when you have a character that is completely indomitable there can be no real conflict for that character. Furthermore, Rey did not earn her enormous power, neither through special lineage or training, rather she was gifted with invulnerable plot armor wherein any time she was placed in peril “the force” would come to the rescue and she would overcome the obstacle without explanation. Rey is a obvious by-product of third-wave feminism wherein the ideal conception of Womanhood is wholly removed from man  (I’m a strong independent woman, I don’t need no man). She removes herself from nearly all male entanglements because she is believed to have “liberated” herself from “the patriarchy.” Yet this ideal is not liberating, but rather, isolating.

In stark contrast, the central protagonist of Rogue One, Jyn Erso is a rather believable heroine. She is tough, both mentally and physically, yet her skills, unlike Rey’s, are justified given that Jyn was raised as a child soldier by the dissident fanatic Saw Gerrera. Also, unlike Rey, Jyn is not, from the get-go, a moral paragon, she’s a liar, a criminal and is generally uncertain and suspicious about the moral validity of the rebel cause (there is a quite excellent scene where she confronts a Rebel assassin and accuses him of being no different than a Imperial Stormtrooper).

This moral uncertainty is also embodied by Cassian Andor, a pilot and talented intelligence officer for The Rebel Alliance. In a early scene in the film, Andor murders a informant by ruthlessly shooting him in the back after gaining his trust to tie up loose ends which shows that the Alliance was not so squeaky clean as one had been led to believe from the previous films. Then, later on in the film Andor expresses regret for such past actions but remains firm in his convictions, declaring that that he can not turn back from The Cause, for that would have made all the lies, destruction and death meaningless. A very evocative scene.

There is also a very exciting, and quite terrifying, scene featuring Darth Vader hunting down some hapless rebel fighters who he then mercilessly slaughters. Another high point in the film which will certainly stick in your mind after viewing.

Cons.

One of the bigger and more glaring problems in the film is Gran Moff Tarkin. The problem lies not with Guy Henry, upon whom former Tarkin actor, Peter Cushing’s face has been CGI mapped but rather lies with the CGI itself. It is not that the CGI is bad so much that it is very obviously CGI. There is a peculiar fantasy French film called Immortal which features a bevvy of very low-budget, though highly detailed and aesthetically interesting CGI juxtaposed with real-life actors. Yet in Immortal the CGI/real-life juxtaposition never frays the visual nerves due to the fact that the computer created imagery – though obviously CGI – was, from the very beginning of the film, omnipresent. It was everywhere, for extended periods of time and due to this continual integration with the real life landscape that made the viewer accept the CGI as part of the world of the story. In Rogue One there is no shortage of CGI, but it is most prominently utilized as background or in brief flashes (such as laser fire, explosions, ect.) almost too quick to be perceived whereas Tarkin’s appearances take the viewer deep into the uncanny-valley.

Additionally, Saw Gerrera’s bizarre squid monster, which latches on to a living beings and forces the truth out of them at the expense of their sanity is very poorly explained. When Gerrera unleashes his beast on the turn-coat imperial pilot, Bohdi Rook, the creature drives him mad. He stutters and wanders about as if lobotomized; completely out of his wits. Yet a couple of scenes later, Rook is completely sound of mind. This is never at all explained and remains a jarring plot hole despite how trivial it was to the rest of the plot.

Second to last we come to the dialogue which is, on the whole, slick and solid (the robot, K2 has a bevvy of humorous lines) save for one particular scene involving Darth Vader and Director Krennic. Krennic, overjoyed that he is able to maintain control over the deathstar (his crowning achievement for the Empire), despite his past folly states the following:

So I’m still in command? You’ll speak to the emperor about this- [eyes bulge, choking he collapses to the floor]

To which Vader replies.

Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director. [Before releasing Krennic from his force-choke]

It seemed wholly misplaced coming from the stoic and brooding Vader, who, least as far as I can recall, never made a single pun or joke in his entire tenure throughout the series. Very out-of-character.

However, my greatest problem with the film, as with all Star Wars films, is that the motivations of the Empire at large are never explained. The Emperor himself, we know from previous films, is a sadistic, egoistic Machiavellian political string-puller and that Krennic and Vader are similarly corrupt and vile, but what of the rest of them? What indeed of those planets who align, willingly, with the Galactic Empire? What of those normal citizens who view the Rebel Alliance as a terrorist organization (which they, by definition, are)? This seems a rich area to explore in future films but given that Lucas had never delved into it before and Disney now has the reins on the franchise it is unlikely any kind of socio-political meat or real philosophical heft will be injected into the series at any point in the future.

Conclusion.

All in all, the film is worth seeing, if only just.