Archive for Alexandre Aja

SITGES PT. V: REMAKE TIME! MANIAC, Franck Khalfoun (2012)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

The main reason why I attended the marathon on Sunday was Maniac. I had to see with my own eyes, swallow and then try to be as objective as possible and deliver a fair verdict.

To be honest when I heard of the project, involving Alexandre Aja and Grégory Lavasseur, my feelings were conflicting. On one hand, as a true fan of William Lustig’s original Maniac with Joe Spinell as Frank Zito, and considering the disappointments I’m experiencing regarding remakes, I thought it was completely unnecessary and risky. On the other hand, knowing that  the two French pals were in charge of the script, although I don’t like much Aja’s last projects behind the cameras, it was something quite attractive, enough as to give it a try. The response to the first screenings was surprisingly positive, with both the critics and the audience agreeing this new Maniac was spectacular.

Frank (Elijah Wood) is an attractive guy in his 30’s who works restoring old mannequins. He’s also a mentally disturbed serial killer moved by his main target: collecting scalps from young beautiful women, to bring out his favorite mannequins into life, personalizing them as his victims, in order to keep them as company.

Despite his detachment from society, mainly due to his obsessions and schizophrenic paranoia episodes in which his dead mother (America Olivo), a vicious and very promiscuous woman, is the main protagonist, he’s still able to become friends with a beautiful French photographer named Anna (Nora Arnazeder), who happened to discover the restored mannequins exposed in his shop window. Her fascination for Frank’s work closely related to her portfolio, will be decisive for the killer having an obsessive crush on her which he’ll be disguising as friendship so he can get close to her. Anna means what the others can’t be, she’s pure, humble, friendly… and is interested in Frank in an innocent and honest way.

It’s inevitable to compare this remake with the original. There are many things in common, but there are enormous changes.

I like the fact that Frank’s surname is not abused of in the whole movie, as a tribute to the great character Lustig created. The serial killers are completely different. Joe Spinell’s Zito was disgusting in his appearance, fat, old, sweaty, very insane and disturbing. Wood’s Frank is a skinny pale guy with intense blue eyes, considered cute and attractive by some women, isolated at the store, restoring the mannequins, yet contacting with society for achieving his purposes.

There are several things related to this Frank I enjoyed lots. On one hand his physical deterioration evolves according to his mental breakage. His hallucinations happen more often and get worse every time, up to unbearable limits. From the very beginning we see he takes medication which seems to work, but as the story goes on, the effect diminishes. Wood is really convincing in his role, very well done.

Anna is the symbol of purity and innocence embodied in a beautiful woman. For the first time, she’s the one who approaches Frank, enthusiastic about his restoration work. The sensibility towards the mannequins, considering them as living creatures, moves the killer. They meet and spend time together, and he stalks her in the distance, not in a hunting mood, but in love.

The executions are rad! The opening scene gave me the goose bumps, super explicit, mean and brutal, perfect to please the splatter lovers. I thought of early Aja’s films, with those brutal murders that affected you right in the belly, if you know what I mean.

The use of the subjective camera technique from Frank’s perspective, and the situations created with mirrors, to see the killer reflected, are fabulous. Classic horror had this idea before of course, you just have to remember little Mike Myers in Halloween, or The Boston Strangler. But the effect achieved here, helps the viewer to be Frank for a while, creating this suffocating and claustrophobic feeling.

The city is not as filthy as Lustig’s, but it recovers the essence of the 80s. Dark and wet streets, those built-to-be-rape-alleys, the scent of danger… it’s fantastic. It’s also remarkable the soundtrack, very 80s too. Both outdoors locations and the soundtrack have lots in common with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Aesthetics does matter, and  it’s meticulously handled.

It’s compulsory to congratulate the director, Franck Khalfoun, for a great job done, of course, but I have Alexandre Aja and Grégory Lavasseur in my head, as the script writers, and I’m convinced the influence and participation in the project was very prominent, because while watching the film, Aja was present there.

The Maniac experience was quite worthy, and the result was surprisingly positive. This is an example of how a good remake can be decently delivered, without insulting the original one, yet keeping its own identity.

One of the peak moments of the festival definitely.

HAUTE TENSION (HIGH TENSION/SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE), Alexandre Aja (2003)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , , , on October 12, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

It’s been sometime since I haven’t written any post. Several events and the fact that I’m revisiting The Sopranos at insane speed have made me feel a bit lazy. Hope it doesn’t take so long next time. I actually have a list for future updates which I don’t want to grow too much, now that I have memories and thoughts still fresh in my mind.

Let’s get started once again.

Despite all the Hollywood monopoly on film business, horror is not exclusive, in fact I’d dare to say, most their products delivered, focused on huge money profit, lack of the true essence of the genre, and scripts are often poor.

This powerful empire is the British Museum in movie business. As soon as they smell brand new success and potential in directors or writers, these immediately are abducted by the monster.

This is not a critic towards Hollywood, well it is in a way, but it’s like horror genre has eventually proved to be successful, followed by many devoted fans, thus, it has to be submitted to the mainstream chain.

Think about the classics, from Hammer films to Carpenter’s, Cronenberg’s, Romero’s early works. Their narrow budget films shocked the world and turned into icons and legends.

In my opinion, the case of Alexandre Aja is quite an example of what I mean. This cult movie discovered his potential, and immediately he was summoned to the American film empire, to get involved into, first, a remake of Wes Craven’s Hills Have Eyes, and then Mirrors, a good story, but weakening in the end, to finally work on another remake. Aaah! I think it’s a pity considering, in my opinion, of course, with Haute Tension, he delivered one of the best horror films in the past decade.

Once this said, and trying not to ruin your possible future viewing, let’s get focused.

First I got to remind you Haute Tension is a French film, and I’ve never seen it dubbed into a different language, thus make sure you get a copy with subtitles. Truth is, dialogue is not one of its most important features.

In order to stay away from any kind of distraction, Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) invites Marie (Cécile de France) to spend the weekend at her parents’ countryside cottage, so they can relax and study hard without being bothered. As you can imagine the house is in the middle of nowhere, and you depend on a car to move to the nearest town.

They arrive quite late, and Alex barely talks to her parents and her little brother. The girls are exhausted after partying the night before, thus Alex shows Marie her room upstairs, give her few tips for making herself comfortable, and goes to sleep.

Laid on the bed and listening to music, somehow Marie notices a threatening visit of a stranger. Alerted, she starts peeping realizing something wrong is going on.

A man dressed in greasy overalls and face hidden by a cap, gets in the house brutally killing Alex father, to continue stabbing the mother with a shaving knife. It’s apparent to Marie, he wants to rape Alex and take her with him against his will, so she will try to save her best friend by all means.

The relationship among the two friends is a bit peculiar. Feedback is not much provided. They seem to be friends from college, but not for long time. Marie has never met Alex’ family before, however there’s a picture of them together in the house.

Despite the standard and even innocent appearance of Alex, according to some conversation, her sexual life is quite active, and she’s inclined towards engaged guys, a fact that pisses Marie off quite much. On the other hand, her friend is not interested in men at all, and the sex issue is a topic of discussion she doesn’t feel much comfortable with.

There’s no further explanation of such matter, she’s in love with Alex. It’s like this teenage thing, when you like someone but is out of reach, in order to get closer you become friends, so hopefully sooner or later that person will realize how wonderful you are and eventually, will have a crush… Not only Marie’s condition is evident due to her protective and jealous attitude towards her friend, but also her physical appearance implies something.

What would you do if you were staying as a guest in a house that is suddenly assaulted, you’re placed in the most isolated room in the house, and initially nobody but the inhabitants knows you’re there? Let’s not pretend to be heroes here. If you weren’t putting yourself at risk of course you’d try to help, but if that wasn’t the case, and you could get away, believe me, you would run as fuck and hide wherever.

Marie’s cold movements are simply amazing, and for some time you think of her as a heroine with all the typical features: she’s strong and well built, she’s smart, quick, silent, brave and almost a professional in improvising. Too perfect!

She passes one obstacle after another successfully, but all the same the viewer starts developing an uneasy feeling of something that doesn’t fit in the puzzle. This is the greatness of this movie, you know there’s something rotten behind the scenes, but it will take you 80 minutes to discover what really is (I’m not going to tell you).

Just want to mention a moment that , let’s say, alerted and caused me starting to question what I was watching. You know in dynamic films, like these epic sagas such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings… the weird ability of characters to overcome tragedy in just few seconds. Let me put you an example. When Obi Wan allows Vader to defeat him just for the sake of the rebels (Leia, Han and Luke), the Jedi apprentice is morally down and depressed for just 30 seconds, until they have to defend themselves from the attack of the Empire when escaping from the Death Star on board of the Millenium Falcon. You might think I’m crazy, but there’s a scene in Haute Tension,  when Marie releases Alex from the chains, inside the van, she’s so joyful as if this was the end of an adventure, as if ignoring her friend’s family were brutally massacred, and she had been raped and humiliated for many hours, captive by a psycho. It’s like, how can you be so happy and not concerned about what has been happening that night?

If you seek for blood, violence and brutal scenes this is your movie. I’ve seen it many times and still feel the knot in my stomach, and feel uneasy.

This is one of these movies, first time you see it is no doubt the best, still, reviewing it from time to time is very enjoyable. As commented earlier, it’s last decade personal favorite in the genre. If you are a horror lover, this is a MUST.