Friday, September 25, 2009

Quick Fix Finales

Paul Solet’s Grace is a fascinating, disturbing, and haunting little thriller that wedges itself under your skin, then dies suddenly before it can lay eggs. It’s effective and upsetting but for me, it stumbles in its third act by forcing its characters into a contrived and somewhat predictable violent confrontation.

I love cinematic violence. Splatter films have their own sub-section in my DVD collection and my heart tends to drop a tad when it learns a kickass trailer is approved for thirteen year olds. Recent favorites include the French import Inside, which provided a powerful example of how to end with (SPOILERS) a do-it-yourself C-sectiom and not have your audience feel exploited, and William Friedken’s woefully underrated Bug, a play-turned-film chronicling a romantic descent into mania that culminated in a horrifically graphic nightmare. The flawed but fun Silent Hill is rightfully memorable for its razor-sharp ivy-filled finale. And yes, Carrie is a classic example of how to build character and story well enough to earn a 20 minute massacre. These films--and their endings--leave the audience feeling hurt and abused, but not cheated.

Think of the apex of baby horror, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. It never teases us with the suggestion that poor Mrs. Woodhouse is going to have to stab her way through a coven of satanists or wrestle her evil neighbors (although the sight of pregnant Mia Farrow tumbling with the gloriously spry Ruth Gordon would have bested Yoda’s dual with Christopher Lee as greatest fight in mainstream filmdom). There is no final chase with slain civilians or blood-soaked showdown. Rosemary confronts her tormentors and makes a decision, leaving us terrified of what’s to come by the sheer force of suggestion.

One of my favorite films of this year so far has been Neill Blomkamp's incredibly innovative District 9. Thoughtful, skeptical, and not afraid to twist and reshape the typical summer blockbuster cliches, this film comes dangerously close to being Great (yes, with a capital) and then...well it gets By its final act, the documentary style and social subtext so carefully explored in the opening half hour take a break while a Trasformers-y chase and shootout closes the show. It’s fun to watch and rich with suspense, but ultimately, it reduces what started out as an almost subversive and important popcorn film to a smarter-to-than-your-average alien actionfest.

Some films take the opposite route by opening with the money shots and slowly fooling us with second act smarts. Take Larry Cohen's God Told Me To, which features a terrifying first scene wherein a madman guns down New York extras and quickly moves slows down into more heady fare. Its most disturbing scene is a mere monologue (although said speech is said by a father explaining how he killed his entire family). The blockbuster juggernaut The Sixth Sense is admittedly low on the type of violence found in a Clark film, but notice how it also leaves its entire last 30 minutes to quiet moments as characters deal with the supernatural in calm yet creepy ways. Even Shion Sono's Suicide Club--an avant garde piece of sorts busting with blood, flattened-out human skin, and stickily stubborn earlobes--ultimately steps away from its insane visual nastiness to wrap up (kind of) its plot (although for some, J-pop may be more frightening and offensive than jumping in front of a moving subway or slicing off your own hand while making a sandwich for the kids).

This brings me back to Grace, which is indeed a strong and worth-your-money movie. The problem I have with it (cue SPOILER sirens) is not that it ends with an act of violence between its two female leads, but that it reduces a complex relationship into what you can do with a hammer and ex-girlfriend. Did I expect family counseling or a custody case? No, but the sudden resolution felt too easy in eliminating a character that had been developed so carefully throughout the film. I believe anyone is capable of violence, and more specifically, that most mothers would not hesitate in doing whatever it would take to protect their children. 

It just doesn't mean that's all we deserve to watch.

Agree, disagree, want to end this with a quick and sudden act of violence? Leave it in word form below:

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