Borgman (2013)

Written and Directed by: Alex van Warmerdam 

220px-Borgman_poster 

            In its early days, this website has explored a number of variants on the horror genre. Get Out was “woke” horror; Colossal was subtle-alt-woke-horror; and My Cousin Rachel was…well, was it horror?

Borgman is yet another category on this list. It can be described as obvious horror, or rather, incredibly obvious horror. The horror in this work is so obvious that perhaps the film isn’t a work of horror at all.

Borgman follows a team of murderers. We see the efficiency with which they operate, but we are never allowed to understand why they do what they do. The film also follows a wealthy suburban/rural family which includes a mother, father, three children and an aupair. The premise of the film is simple, these two groups of characters are brought together, and we can only assume things will not end well for at least certain members of the family.

Borgman’s intrigue thus doesn’t lie in its horror—which is simultaneously under and overstated, but in its other mysteries. Richard, the father (Jeroen Perceval), can be aggressive and is an unabashed elitist racist. The contrast between Richard and his orderly, but caring artist wife Marina (Hodewych Minis) is particularly noticeable. Petty conflicts exists elsewhere in the family, for instance, Marina’s chiding of Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen), the au pair, over her work. While tensions ultimately rises between Richard and Marina due to the efforts of the killers, audiences are nonetheless left to wonder whether a comparably intense story could have developed in their absence.

Without the serial killers Borgman could tell the tale of Richard and Marina’s search for a gardener. It wouldn’t be a Hollywood crowd-pleaser, but film festival fans would no doubt enjoy seeing a Paterson-esque pseudo story of a borderline-incompatible couple trying to hire a gardener, while their kids and au pair live normally on the sidelines.

With the serial-killers, Borgman transforms, not so much into a horror film as into a horror painting. Borgman is not a film one watches to tremble as one gradually anticipates what it’s horror will be. Instead it presents viewers with a quaint country landscape coupled with a portrait of domestic life; and scattered with a number of violently mischievous little demons.

Borgman is not a work for the faint of heart, but it is not something to be avoided simply because one is put off by horror films in general. If you want to see The Gift, but with less suspense, or Holy Motors, but with (somewhat) less graphic violence and more of a coherent story line, this unapologetically macabre film is right for you.


 

It Comes at Night (2017)

Written and Directed by: Trey Edward Shults

It_Comes_at_Night“Watch a Patriarchy Crumble in It Comes at Night,” proclaims Rich Juzwiak of Jezebel. Juzwiak’s summation of the film is not a bad one. It Comes at Night stars Joel Edgerton as Paul: a cold, strong father who will kill when he has to, and insists no one outside of his family can be trusted. Paul even runs his own family in a dictatorial fashion, a dynamic made particularly plain by the (unstated) possibility that he is the stepfather to the family’s comparatively gentle son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).

Yet while It Comes At Night undoubtedly depicts a patriarchal family, the film is arguably not so much about patriarchy or distrust as it is about inevitability. Vegetarians, vegans and animal lovers will notice this theme first, when Will (Christopher Abbot) offers Paul’s family food, and by food he means live chickens and goats (one supposedly played by Charlie (Black Phillip from The Witch). Perhaps some audience members will squirm at the sight of these animals, fearing they will be featured in a slaughter scene (don’t worry, there is none). Despite their squirming they will not be able to blame the humans of this film for having to find ways to eat in their desolate, post-apocalyptic living conditions.

In It Comes at Night, this sad-logic of the life of farm animals comes to effect the film’s humans. When Paul kills, as much as audiences may be repulsed by his comfort with his actions, they will not be able to dismiss him as a bad character. If what Paul, and to a lesser extent the other characters, says is true, he has no choice but to kill those who have been infected by “it” in order to protect his family. Nothing can persuade him to act differently, regardless of how conflicted he may feel internally. His violence is inevitable.

The true terror of It Comes at Night is thus not Paul’s brutality in itself, but the horrible thought that Paul’s killings may very well be justified. It’s one thing to endure the psychological pain that comes with fleeing a raging gun man—it quite another to have to both endure this pain and the pain of knowing the gunman is chasing you with justice running by his side.

It Comes at Night is a well-paced story with a good range of characters: many of whom are likeable, but all of whom remain somewhat shrouded in mystery. Viewers in search of a well told, discussion-provoking horror movie should check it out.

 

 

Colossal (2017)

Written and Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

Colossal_(film)I don’t believe in spoiling films in my reviews, but that’s a challenge with Colossal. Much like Wes Anderson films (which Colossal briefly references), Colossal’s trailer gives viewers the impression they are to see a quirky comedy. Unlike Anderson’s works however, which only diverge slightly from the comedy genre, Colossal truly goes in an unpredictable direction. If you are willing to have that element of surprise taken away from you, read on.

Along with Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Colossal could help make 2017 the year of the “woke” horror movie. The former deals with race, the latter with gender. The difference between the two is that Get Out makes no effort to hide its theme, while Colossal’s effectiveness comes from its message’s discrete build up. But while plot twists are of course an important part of the horror genre (Get Out has a somewhat political twist of its own), Colossal’s plot-twist stands out because it is accompanied by a genre twist. While Colossal arguably opens as a horror film, its invocation of the Godzilla-trope sets up viewers for pastiche and comic parody, not actual terror.

 

Colossal then goes on to tell a story of gendered violence. Because viewers do not see this kind of horror coming, and because the perpetrator is not (in more ways then one) a “traditional” domestic abuser, it’s all the more effective. As in many actually cases of abuse, the protagonist, Gloria (Anne Hatheway) is not explicitly told what she is going through, but rather, along with the audience, has to figure it out herself.

 

Colossal’s approach to topical filmmaking allows it to have a powerful conclusion, but this comes at a cost. The middle portion of the film is a genre-less wasteland in which Gloria hangs out with a comedic-ish-friend-group whose interactions never get that funny. Meanwhile, the film also drifts away from a key part of its premise, scenes of a monster reeking havoc on Korea. As audiences are left underwhelmed by Gloria’s daily happenings, and disappointed by the dreary small-town scenes shown in place of glimmering downtown Seoul, they are secretly being integrated into the dreary world in which Gloria is being held prisoner.

 

However, once the nature of Gloria’s existence becomes apparent, the film is able to explore its gendered theme in a much more animated fashion. Colossal ends with a sad-faced, black-eyed Gloria forcefully pushing for her freedom. This too is one of the film’s strong points, as it is the writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s way of responding to the age-old question of whether the oppressed should resist with force or by turning the other cheek. Colossal ultimately choses force, but by showing Gloria’s face to be confused and broken, not bloodshot, it does not do so unambiguously.

 

Colossal in short, is not always the most captivating film, but its less exciting plot points ultimately feed into its poignant conclusion. Gloria, for instance, starts a mid-film, casual relationship with a character who is too devoid of personality on his own to bring much to the story. At the end of the film, however, it becomes clear that Gloria’s interest in this character is a statement of her refusal to participate in/be subject to the “good-man-bad-man” dichotomy that exists between two of the film’s other central characters. Watch Colossal if you are interested in seeing a convention-defying work which reaches its resolution in memorable fashion.