November 2017 Capsules

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
By no means a slow burn, and yet the kills come in swift and brutal fashion only after the atmosphere has been totally, completely set in place. Scenes are elongated and yet completely compact – the scene with the hitchhiker, conducted entirely within the confines of the van, contains its own taut, visceral fear even before the razor blade comes out. And Marilyn Burns’ perpetual screaming, at once continuous and unchanging and always impactful, the editing and score combining to create something utterly inhuman. The ending, with its brief hint of hope amid the horror still visible in the rearview mirror, still provides an overwhelming moment of catharsis, a small triumph that still registers.

Unfriended
Looking at Unfriended from the vantage point of three years into the future, there have already been some drastic software changes that put me at a slight remove. The Facebook interface is overhauled, OS X is sleeker, just about every program or website here is reconfigured in some way. And there’s the fact that, though I watched it on my computer and am a contemporary of sorts with these teens if they existed in real life, I only sparingly used Skype in the same way, and my own desktop/browser/application dock/etc. are entirely different and less cluttered. But that doesn’t take away from the experience, and in some ways enhances it: the rapid blur of the cursor, the slightly-too-quick typing (even if it includes some extremely apropos typos), the excessive lagging all create a truly uncanny atmosphere, a disconnect between the way I look at my screen and the way Blair looks at her own. What exists on the screen is a heightened replica; there’s an odd sort of mise-en-scéne and blocking at play here, often cutting off half of the central Skype call and inadvertently creating two different reaction shots (creating six different reaction shots to a default profile icon is ingenious), and in general creating an almost 3-D feeling with the numerous layers of apps. The effect is natural enough that it feels spontaneous, but it’s still immensely striking. Gabriadze doesn’t need music, cuts, or unconventional cinematography to do this; it’s already created in the comfortable and familiar dimensions of the laptop screen, in our ingrained reactions to the sounds of notifications twisted by their contents. When even Google and Facebook aren’t functioning in the expected manner, it’s already too late.

The River
Tsai has obviously used stasis to extraordinary lengths and effects throughout his oeuvre, but halfway through I wonder if he’s employed it elsewhere in such a specifically patient manner. The style here isn’t vastly removed from that of, Vive L’Amour, but it’s applied to a much more specific and ostensibly insular societal institution. In Tsai’s world, the family is as amorphous and free-floating as the individuals that inhabit it, and part of the fascination that I had watching The River was seeing just how they would come together. Of course, the movie goes down immensely dark and upsetting paths, realized with some extraordinary plays with light and shadow, but the core images – rain, Lee Kang-sheng’s pained face, the decay of urban Taipei – remain the same. And Tsai (and I) wouldn’t have it any other way.

Night of the Living Dead
Almost certainly one of the most productive examples of a film effectively split in two. The first third or so – “They’re coming to get you Barbra” included – establishes an immense tone of melancholy and paranoia, buoyed by the dueling insular intensities of Jones and an effectively mute O’Dea. With both communicating the most fundamental fears and emotions with furtive glances and odd movements, Night of the Living Dead could conceivably have stayed in this vein for the entirety of its running time, especially with the radio providing clarification and more mystery in equal measure. But with more characters and the television comes necessary, even vital complications. Romero seems to be entirely truthful when he says that Jones wasn’t cast because of his race, but it adds a log to the raging fire that is this movie, only highlighted by the newsreel-esque footage playing under the credits. Primal tension is replaced by all-too-human tendencies towards self-destruction, so much so that the eventual resurrection by zombie bite is almost an afterthought.

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