Here’s a list of some of the films I screened this semester.
Oculus (2013): Pretty spooky in parts. The interwoven narratives are definitely confounding and the gore factor is relatively light. Writer-director-editor Mike Flanagan understands the primal magic of mirrors, which have the uncanny power of both doubling and distorting the world.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003): Another “family” horror flick. I think it’s the intimacy of family relationships that make them prime terrain for disturbing films. Certainly the perversion of that intimacy and the violation of trust are linked to the gothic mode. Secrets, darkness, sudden aggression, the gap between perception and reality: all of these elements work to construct an off-kilter storyworld.
Gothic (1989): A Ken Russell film starring a very young Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. A relentlessly batty, hallucinatory account of one of the most famous house visits in English literature, when Polidori, Byron, and the Shelleys told one another ghost stories and Frankenstein was born. The print that’s available on dvd is murky and awful but it’s worth watching anyway.
His Kind of Woman (1951): If you’re a fan of Robert Mitchum then you’ll likely forgive him this over-the-top crime drama with the wooden yet sultry Jane Russell.
Twixt (2011): This is a beautiful looking film that loses energy as it moves along, but has the virtue of imagining a lengthy conversation with Edgar Poe (Ben Chaplin) about plot and narrative.
Poklosi (2012): A better-than-average Polish thriller that is concerned with the crimes of the past.
Faust (2011): If you can get past the opening autopsy, you’ll find this adaptation of the Faust legend is very engaging. Sokurov’s Satan bears a passing resemblance to the figure hallucinated by Ivan Karamazov as he suffers from a virulent “brain fever” in Dostoevsky’s novel. Note also the role that Sokurov’s cinema art seems to be playing in Russia’s efforts to assert its cultural presence on a global stage.
Wolf Hall (2015): I am a huge fan of Hillary Mantel’s historical novels, particularly Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. This miniseries is a really well-executed adaptation of both of them. Clare Foy is just remarkable as Anne Boleyn.
App (2013): I actually enjoyed this film. Cultural anxieties about new tech are usually pretty interesting to consider, and if App is fairly ridiculous it does have something to say about the subsumption of human consciousness into “social” media.
Noah (2014): Initially I was wary of this film but then I realized it was directed by Darren Aronovsky, who basically treats a Judeo-Islamo-Christian myth as science fiction. Check it out.
Pontypool (2008): This original take on the zombie flick picks up William S. Burroughs’s conceit that “the word is a virus” and transports it to strange places.