Stop motion animation has always been my favorite medium within animated storytelling. There’s a level of passion that is shown throughout stop motion animation that I appreciate above all else. From Wes Anderson’s entries in this genre to the Laika films, sans the occasional miss, stop motion has always always connected with me, including this film. Before this feature was released, director Phil Tippett released three shorts that cover roughly the first half of this film. These shorts were only a glimpse at the wonderful world that Tippett had crafted.
This world is very reminiscent of The Dark Crystal combined with Lord of the Rings. Explored by characters that do not speak, but words are not needed. The visual storytelling crafted is worth more than any words could conjure. You feel every speck of dirt, every footstep in the ground, the entire journey is felt. Which elevates it and adds an emotional core, all without speaking a word. A testament to Tippett’s mastery of his craft.
The film is not perfect though, the runtime of the film is relatively short, but it does begin to outstay its welcome. If 15-30 minutes were taken off the film it would be perfect. However, these moments that extend the runtime of the film are unnecessary to the story, such as the overextended opening take showing the world, I feel as though it would’ve been smarter to show the world as the assassin goes through the world as well. He is played as if this is his first time experiencing it and yet we feel as though we know more, instead, it should be the other way around. Even still, this is another fantastic stop-motion film and it was a joy to watch it.
Valdimar Jóhannsson solo directorial debut Lamb is a mountainous pastoral film that details the lives of two farmers. Maria and Ingvar, played by Noomi Rapace(Millennium Series and Prometheus) and Hilmir Snær Guðnason whose films most American audiences won’t know. Maria and Ingvar have barns full of sheep, a barnyard cat, a shepherd dog, and underlying the film–no child, no one around younger than them. We’re introduced to Maria and Ingvar as they deliver lambs in one of the barns on their property. The scene is one of truly bringing life into the world as the ewe is actually bearing each lamb into the world.
The wilderness, wind, and fog surrounding the land takes on character in the film, as the fog is essentially the first character we’re introduced to. It’s ideas of separation, isolation, and mixed realities breathes a tonal consistency to the film that saturates it allowing Valdimar control of how we as audience experience what is presented. Looking with the characters themselves through fog.
Maria and Ingvar take one of the lambs they deliver inside that first night. They nurse it, and put it in a crib with blankets, and somehow the lamb loses it’s four hoof bearing legs overnight in exchange for human appendages. Two hands and two legs. It’s a full faced absurdist piece of magical realism that goes essentially unquestioned despite Ingvar’s disapproving brother’s arrival into the film. Pétur turns up one night as it appears he has many times before, seeking shelter from his brother and Maria. Though he disapproves he doesn’t question the occurrence.
Valdimar Jóhannsson crafts an uncompromising tale, one of absurdism, lust, taboo, and folk tales. But fails to arrive at any particular tier of excitement, intrigue, or affection. We simply witness as bystanders the events of the film rather than being affected by them. That doesn’t take away from his atmospheric prowess creating a place we feel we can imagine, but it does take away from me carrying Lamb further than the drive home from the theater.
Lamb is currently playing in wide theatrical release.
Contrary to popular sentiment, Alexia played by Agathe Rousselle having sex with a car in the opening minutes of the film is actually one of the tamest and most sensical moments of the Palme d’Or winner Titane. Which requires the aforementioned first time actress Agathe Rouselle to bite, claw, stab, pinch, and tear her way along the film. Ducournau builds on her debut solo Feature Raw with another unconventional film that is simultaneously gripping and absurd. Rooted in body horror, a genre that for so long was synonymous with David Cronenberg is now beginning to feel more global and more expansive.
The film opens with a long look at a seeping oily undercarriage that almost seems biological, with the hum of an engine and a little girl, the camera skirts up under the hood to look at a thrumming belt before young Alexia the young girl humming in conjunction with the vehicle gets in a car accident with her father. She is rushed to the hospital and over an unclear amount of time has a titanium plate put in her skull. Ostensibly serving as the inspiration of the title of the film, Titane.
Reusing the name Alexia from Raw isn’t the only repeated decision Ducournau makes. Bringing back Garance Mariller who played Justine the young veterinary student who develops unorthodox tastes in Raw as a supporting character wears the same name again in this film, Justine. Alexia (Rousselle) and Justine (Mariller) are each car show models, shown to the audience in a long neon lit take that capitalizes in a Alexia draped across the hood of Caddy dancing, horizontally.
Titane straddles multiples lines, juggles multiple hats, and sheds all convention with a long look at the taboo. Murder, mental illness, incest, aging. These types of themes are normally tiptoed around. Ducournau opts instead to look down the barrel of the gun, and bring us with her. A metallic chopstick dealing deafening blows. Body augmentation, chemical and mechanical. Eventually Alexia through circumstances that aren’t quite explained becomes very visibly pregnant while also needing to pretend to be a boy to escape the authorities that are searching for her. She opts to take on the identity of a young boy who was taken years earlier. This introduces us to Vincent Lindon’s Vincent.
Vincent is a firefighter tasked with saving lives and casts a strong contrast to Alexia. There is an enormous range of events and moments that occur between these two in the meat and marrow of the film that deserves engagement but due to amount of spoilers that would provide so close to the release of the film I’ll instead steer away from them for now. What I can say is these interactions lead to instances of catharsis, of shame, and acceptance. There’s also glorious exterior and interior firefighting sequences. With the roar of flames cascading up walls and sprawling across a sparse forest. It’s particularly in these fiery sequences that the sound design and foley work are expressly on display in crystal clear and clean exquisiteness.
Ducournau has a penchant for communicating implicit ideas about self governance, discomfort in our skin, and the personal gluttony that can lead one to commit an act that is taboo. Few films or filmmakers are as straight forward in their risks, as formally accomplished, or as committed. Titane is violent, sexy, and absurd. If it’s playing near you, take the time to see it in a theater.
Serene. This is the only possible way I can describe the beginning of 1986’s classic zombie horror film Devil Story (Devil Story: Il était une fois le diable) what is to come. A peaceful morning, birds chirping, and a cool morning breeze. The following 75 minutes play out like a gonzo commercial you would see before a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse warning people not to talk or text. A figure continuously terrorizes people. A zombie (we assume) is terrorizing a community in France, oh and they just happen to be dressed in a SS uniform. Yes. A Nazi uniform, I don’t understand it either.
The figure is not only one of deformity, but also antisemitism. Metaphorically representing the continued disdain that the Germans had towards the rest of the world at this time. He is dressed in a Nazi uniform… why? We don’t know. He could’ve picked it up along his travels, or died in it. Either way, it is his attire now. Which unfortunately plays as a shock for shock value. A common mistake I’ve found in French horror, they assume the audiences want to see gore and death for that very reason. Instead of providing any form of reason to why we are seeing what is happening.
Thankfully, the zaniness presented is something out of my dreams. I loved the cheesiness of the violence. Every blood spatter looks like a Dollar Tree Halloween blood bottle. Every step is accompanied to a over-the-top score that borders on intrusive. There is more style than substance, which is truly unfortunate. I’ve always been a proponent of directors having a style to their films, it’s exactly what separates those films from standard fare. However it is a fine line to walk, as well as a difficult one that was not balanced well by Bernard Launois that ultimately takes away from the entire film.
Religious horror has been a niche genre since the birth of horror. The idea of mixing the idea of God (religion) with Satan (horror) is one of my favorite genres across all of film. I still remember seeing The VVitch and Apostle for the first time and those films being my gateway into this genre of horror filled with a huge variety of religious iconography. The Exorcism of God is no different, the religious influences are clear, the vision, not as much.
Alejandro Hidalgo’s The Exorcism of God is another interesting entry into this niche. Clearly inspired by one of the greatest horror films of all time, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Instead of following the possessed girl, we follow the priest who performs the exorcism on her. Played masterfully by Will Beinbrink, who commits an egregious act during the exorcism that he is able to hide for nearly 2 decades before it begins to weigh heavily on his soul. Playing off Beinbrink for most of the film is Joseph Marcell’s Father Lewis, while not on the level of Beinbrink he still does a serviceable job.
The film also takes a fresh approach, instead of trying to mock or poke fun at religion, or people’s beliefs, and instead choosing to attack the people within it and their own hypocrisy. It has been long public of the misdeeds of the Catholic Church and their predatory behavior towards minors. This take feels fresh, despite the horrendous and irreprehensible act that happens in the opening scene.
Hidalgo is not only directing but also co-writing with Santiago Fernandez Calvete. Pulling near double duty here clearly took his focus off each position. The film constantly feels unfocused from its narrative, instead chose to utilize traditional horror tropes (high violin pitches, jump scares) to try to mask the fact that the film just doesn’t have substance to it. Any semblance of the theme is watered down to it’s dull exposition. There is so much promise here, from the fantastic performance by Beinbrink to the gorgeous macabre cinematography by Gerard Uzcategui, and all of that promise is wasted on a script that could’ve used a few more drafts, and far less jump scares.