REVIEW: Climax.

With films like Black Swan, Suspiria, and now Climax, dance is a staple in horror, both sublime and dangerous. Some kind of magnetism exists to the art, an incredible fascination with the primal power behind the lofty, elegant institutions of dance. Climax is already a bit stripped down in this sense – there is no renowned ballet school, no classical compositions to be centered around. Instead, the film is focused on a diverse dance troupe, and the pace is set from the first major dance sequence to be erotic, sensual, and chaotic.

Climax feels like an amalgamation of limbs and sound, as if it were a strange animal pulsating with bass and red lights, with a feral energy that doesn’t stop until the party’s over. There isn’t really a script, and it was noted by the director Gaspard Noé that most of the scenes were improvised, shot linearly, over the course of only a few days. It feels organic and crude, surreal in some ways and too real in others.

The cinematography is unusual, with brutally long takes, and the camera primarily focused on the mesmerizing choreography and disorientating scenes that almost seem to amount to nothing. If there is supposed to be a story line, a significance behind everything that unfolds over the course of the movie – then it’s lost to a special echelon of hell that spills across the screen.

At first, the film starts off like any other onscreen party: a bit hedonistic, a bit messy, full of drama and gossip and dancing. The audience is exposed to the private problems and personal relationships between the members of the troupes through cuts towards the different characters at different points during the party.

Things are amplified when the group realizes that their sangria had been spiked with LSD, and all pleasures and desires reach unthinkable magnitudes before turning dangerous. Dance is melded with violence and paranoia, and the scenes turn into an unending, bizarre, sensory surge. While this feeling is nearly normalized by the end of the movie, a few scenes we see through the eyes of some of the only coherent characters are the realizations of the nightmarish reality.

Climax is a polarizing film, strange in composition and delivery, but undoubtedly powerful. It’s a movie that is difficult to make sense of with the traditional parameters of good film-making, and is probably most aptly described as a bad trip – perfectly filmed as such, and unforgiving in how far it takes the viewer down a path of indistinguishable pleasures and pains. The ending reveal almost feels insignificant in comparison to the trauma of the rest of the movie.

While beautifully shot and unmistakably special, Climax is difficult to watch and reads more like an abstract exploration of the moraless, raw side of the human condition than an actual plot. It’s interesting, it’s an experience, and it’s probably a masterpiece in its own genre, but it is definitely not for everyone – maybe not even for most people.

PREVIEW: Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land Film Screening

The CHOP Film series presented by the U-M China Ongoing Perspectives programs is presenting a viewing of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land  (暗戀桃花源) with special guest, direct and writer Stan Lai. The warmly received movie was an adaption from Lai’s self-penned play of the same name, and was the Taiwanese Oscar submission in 1992. The comedy features a unique mix of tones and themes as it features on a single theater that is housing two different plays, both a modern romantic tragedy (Secret Love) and a historical comedy (The Peach Blossom Land.)  

Following the film will be a Q&A session with Stan Lai, who is one of the most prominent and acclaimed playwrights in Asia.  He was the first to receive the highest degree of Art Award in Taiwan, the National Arts Award, two times in 1988 and 2001 respectively.

The event will be hosted at the State Theater, Tuesday, March 16th at 7:00 PM.  It’s completely free and open to the public, so if you’re interested you have nothing to lose!

As a note- the event is titled “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,”  However the movie is also sometimes translated as “Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring.”

REVIEW: Greta.

Greta begins like an upscaled lifetime movie, with bouncy music played to the streets of New York, montages of beautiful temperate days in the park, homey cooking scenes, a cute dog – the sweet introduction to the film is a bit undermined, however, by its reputation.

Frances, an ingenuous Bostonian, finds a handbag on the subway and resolves to return it to its owner – her roommate, Erica, notably reminding her in Manhattan they usually call the bomb squad for an unattended bag. Nevertheless, the well-intentioned Frances follows the address found on an ID card to a quaint, scenic house and meets Greta, who is seemingly sophisticated and French, mother-like, charming, and isolated. They bond over their individual loneliness as a friendship is built upon the understanding of loss.

However, about twenty minutes into the film, the movie drops all its horror elements with an inelegant slap of screechy violin music and Chloë Grace Moretz gasping as if she were in a B-movie. Surprise is lost to the speed in which the film rushes into the thick of the story, barreling through its hour and a half runtime with poor pacing.

Underneath its artful glaze of cinematic appeal, Greta is brimming with the clichés of frantic music and jumpy cuts. It’s applied heavy-handed at times, less like a varnish of ingenuity and more like space to fill the shallowness of the characters, the plot.

Isabelle Huppert carries most of the film, almost all of Greta’s horror imbued into one sinister person, and it’s impressive that outside of soundtracks and camera angles, she is the sole source of terror. Greta is largely devoid of any fantasy elements, any secondary antagonists, any other fear that is not Greta herself – near comically deranged and frighteningly pervasive in Frances’ life. The suspense is from her honed act of psychopathy, the delivery of her lines. The tension is from the deliberateness of her obsession.

There are moments not quite explained, disposable characters tossed aside, overly theatrical scenes executed wildly, and the film suffers from the lack of subtlety or wit and a directorial grasp outside of just its visuals. While not bad enough to be entirely campy and not good enough to be spectacular in its genre, Greta is still strangely palatable.

Despite all of its flaws, the style in which Greta combines delicate cinematography with a hammer of horror elements banged into anywhere that fits is, surprisingly, enjoyable and interesting. Without reading too much into the plot or picking at the seams where the film unravels, Greta can still be satisfying in an uncomplicated, indulgent, slightly satirical way. Like a McDonalds milkshake – not necessarily good but whatever.

REVIEW: Lords of Chaos

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The feelings I have about this movie are wildly conflicting. I will admit, I am and never have been a true metalhead, despite my definite emo stage in middle school and its lasting effects on my taste in music. Perhaps I am too normal, too sheep-like to avoid being led by the church instead of following Satan’s call to spread evil and darkness and death, working as an autonomous agent of wickedness. Or at least that is the message I derived from Lords of Chaos.

In any case, while unbothered by the music in the movie, its off-putting, irreverent (almost darkly comedic, and sometimes positive) portrayal of depression and suicidal tendencies was a major misstep on director Jonas Åkerlund’s part. Dead’s (Jack Kilmer) suicide scene was overacted to the point of comedy. The concert scene where he began cutting himself on stage was glamorized, the lights casting a devilishly vibrant glow on the room, and the crowd’s engagement with the bloodshed (not to mention the disturbingly erotic contact with the pig head) was sickening. Though the depressed and suicidal should not be watching this film to begin with, even those unafflicted by such mental illnesses would find this deeply unsettling and beyond inconsiderate.

It is hard to say whether my reaction is what Jonas Åkerlund intended, or what the members of Mayhem intended. Still, even if he was only reflecting the evils that did actually take place in their concerts so as to tell the band’s story truly, this does not have to extend to Dead’s suicide. That was a private event, the darkest moment in a series of dark moments that he had in his life. If it really needed to be so graphic, the acting could have been less ridiculous.

Yet even considering the superfluous violence, much of this movie was almost lovingly made, earnestly redeeming itself as legitimately beautiful and complex. The churches they burn are all gothically intricate, the fires coloring the air like liquid paintbrushes. There is a complicated, gradual exchange of character between Euronymous and Varg as we realize Euronymous’s capacity for gentleness and Varg’s capacity for psychosis. We grow to understand the danger in a performance of evil: how deeply it can affect the performer and his audience. There is a question posed, a question of where we draw the line between performance and reality, a lifestyle and the endangerment of others, freedom of belief and deeper mental instability, a call to action and a call for help.

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The quality of a movie is heavily dependent on how much it makes the viewer feel, the range of emotion it can elicit. In those terms, this is a good movie, an effective movie. Although I hated it, it is important in the issues it explores, and so I must tip my hat to Jonas Åkerlund’s work.

If you would like to be as emotionally confused about this movie as I am, you can rent or buy it on a variety of sites like Amazon or Vudu and watch it at your leisure. Make some popcorn, a cup of tea, and settle in with a soft blanket. Good luck.

PREVIEW: Vox Lux

Daring glam rock divas are just the thing you need to destress after finals season and as the holiday season starts. Natalie Portman stars as Celeste, a music prodigy who survived a school shooting when she was 13. As her talent becomes known during the memorial service, she spends her next years rising to celebrity status. Now at the age of 31, scandals and personal struggles threaten her career as she’s trying to make a comeback. Vox Lux explores the life of trauma, fame, and narcissism through this twisted drama that opens at the State Theater on December 14.

PREVIEW: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Lee Israel makes her living as a celebrity biographer. However, when that no longer pays off, she uses her talents for deception as she tries to maintain her failing writing career by forging letters from deceased authors and playwrights. Based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name, Melissa McCarthy stars as the infamous forger as we explore the underlying motives and consequences of her actions in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. This biographical drama is now playing at the Michigan and State Theaters.