The Paste/Netflix Challenge: “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and “Pontypool”

Interestingly enough, I had just finished reading Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan right before watching Beyond the Black Rainbow, and I felt like Machen’s book gave me some insight into the film–both were about using science to test the boundaries of one’s sanity and dealing with the consequences.  I also found some similarities between Pontypool and The Signal since both involved regular people losing their shit because of an overabundance of information and communication.

Black Rainbow#21 – Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

I have a hard time categorizing this as a movie.  See, movies tend to follow a linear storyline, develop characters—that kind of thing.  Beyond the Black Rainbow is more of a collection of surreal scenes that could possibly be construed as a story, but could just as easily be individual studies of control and escape.

As far as I could tell, the plot of the film revolved around Elena (Eva Allan), a young girl with psychic powers who was being held in a sterile and fluorescent lab installation, and Barry (Michael Rogers) is her creepily involved psychologist/caseworker.  Eventually, Eva manages to escape, which sets Barry into a cold and murderous episode that involves pulling off his wig and popping out his contact lenses to reveal a Nosferatu-esque creeper.

I think it’s important to approach this from the right direction.  It’s not something you throw on for your friends, but rather an attempt to present a visually artistic statement in the package of a horror movie.

Best Moment: I don’t know about best, but there was one genuinely terrifying moment.  First, as our heroine is escaping, she stumbles into another cell.  Within this cell, we see a freakishly mutated dude wrapped in a straitjacket lying on a cot.  As soon as he sees Elena, he convulses and flops down on the ground, wriggling toward her like an oversized maggot.  She narrowly escapes by putting a glass door between them.  The mutant responds by smearing his face and tongue all over the transparent screen.  It was gross.

pontypool_xlg#20 – Pontypool (2008)

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to have a horror movie that relies on the implication of malice and dread instead of actually showing malice and dread.  This is where Pontypool succeeds—until the last half of the movie, that is.

The implication of which I speak comes right at the very beginning of the film as we see shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on his way to work in a driving snowstorm.  An incoherent woman approaches his car as he is stopped at a red light.  She wanders off, but the implication of something messed up is put into the foreground.  As Mazzy’s morning show gets underway, he gets strange updates about violent outbreaks and riots via his field reporter.

The first half of the film is brilliant.  Mazzy, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and their assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) are the only characters involved, and watching them try to piece together what’s happening from within their radio station evokes this awesome feeling of uncertainty and mistrust.

It’s when Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) arrives that the film starts to fall apart.  Not to disparage Alianak’s great performance, but his arrival signaled the inevitable explanation of what was happening, which killed the film’s paranoid atmosphere.  It turns out, certain words in the English language have become infected with a virus that turns people into gibbering lunatics.  Though it’s an interesting idea, it kind of falls apart towards the end—right around the time we start seeing the crazy townsfolk descend upon the radio station.  I would have liked this film better if it stuck with an implied scary situation rather than showing us what was happening.  That way, the audience is left to decide whether it’s really happening or not.

Best Moment: After Laurel-Ann gets infected, our heroes hide from her in a sound-proof recording room.  She subjects herself to all kinds of self-abuse—including chewing off her bottom lip—until she finally vomits up a deluge of blood and chunks that splatters across the sound-proof glass.  Dr. Mendez, a scientist before all else, enthusiastically theorizes that her blood vomiting is a result of not successfully transmitting the disease.  His academic enthusiasm in the face of something truly terrible is both hilarious and worthy of admiration.

Next up, we’re going old school with the 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a tale of teeth-devouring devil-pixies.  Can’t wait!

The Paste/Netflix Challenge: “Troll Hunter” & “The Grey”

Recently, Paste published a list of their 25 favorite horror films that are currently streaming on Netflix.  Through the month of October, I will watch these films and post about them.  This is the first of such posts.

 Troll Hunter#25 – Troll Hunter (2010)

 Let me put it this way: Government.  Contracted.  Troll.  Hunter.  Apparently in Norway, giant trolls still exist.  When they get too big for their foul-smelling loincloths, the government calls Hans (Otto Jespersen) the troll hunter.  As his occupation technically doesn’t exist, he leads a lonely and thankless life from within the confines of a stinky camper.  When a team of reporters who are covering a poaching story have Hans pegged as the notorious wildlife-hater, they follow him into the dark Norwegian woods (which are much scarier than American woods).  Hans rescues them from a pissed-off three-headed troll, and just like that, his secret is out.

It’s a fun film to watch, especially when thinking of similar shaky-cam flicks like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project.  Where those films use the documentary style to drop hints about what is stalking the main characters, Troll Hunter is unashamed to show the Nordic menace that exists in the dark corners of Scandinavia.

As far as its placement on Paste’s list, this is a good showing for number 25.  It deserves to be on a top 25 list, but only for the fact that it is a quality film with an unabashedly goofy premise.

Best Moment: Watching Hans blast a Mountain King with a ball of UV light and the subsequent crumbling of said Mountain King.  Also, the Polish smugglers who plant dead bears in the woods to help cover up Norway’s troll problem were pretty hilarious.

The Grey#24 – The Grey (2012)

This is the type of horror that is underused, which is too bad.  A film in which six guys become stranded in the middle of an arctic wilderness while being pursued by wolves is much scarier than…pretty much anything that is currently showing in theatres.  In addition to the terror of the situation, The Grey shows some serious filmmaking chops as it digs into the deep, dark places that plague the male mind.

When the film starts, and we see John Ottman (Liam Neeson) sharing the final moments of an arctic wolf that he has shot, as it’s his job to keep wolves from attacking the employees of this unspecified industrial site.  From the get go, we see that Neeson is a man who is nurturing some deep emotional wounds—who else would take a job killing wolves? We see flashbacks of his wife, which get violently pulled away from him as reality comes crashing back into his mind.

And then there’s this plane crash.

Six men survive the crash, and are then pitted against the elements in order to survive.  Among them, several aspects of the male movie archetype are present.  There’s the hot-headed ex-con, the wiseass who talks incessantly to cope with anxiety, the level-headed scientist, and the father figure who just wants to see his kid again.  As the wolves are quite literally at their door, the group of survivors becomes less like men and more like a rival pack, fighting for their right to survive.

Based on some of the films that I’ve already seen on Paste’s list, I think this one could be a bit higher.  This was my first time watching The Grey, but damn was it a satisfying cinematic experience.  I often find myself questioning Liam Neeson’s choice in acting jobs, but he was ideal for this part.

Best Moment: It’s a tie.  First, the moment when we see the Alpha Male take one step into the survivor’s camp only to see the overly-macho ex-con take one step backwards—demonstrating that talk is beyond cheap when wolves are itching to rip out your throat.  Second, the final seconds of the film.  Ottman stares directly into the Alpha Wolf’s eyes as he tapes broken bottles and a hunting knife to his hands.  He recites the only poem his father ever wrote as he lunges for the final confrontation.  Effing epic.