IN THE EARTH (2021)

April 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Have you ever wondered why they warned concert attendees to stay away from the brown acid at Woodstock? I can only speculate, but I assume the poor souls who consumed the taboo drug experienced hallucinations not dissimilar to watching this latest from writer-director Ben Wheatley. Filmmaker Wheatley previously delivered such interesting and diverse fare as the intriguing horror film KILL LIST (2011), the confusing and bizarre HIGH-RISE (2015), and my personal favorite of his, the quite funny and action-packed FREE FIRE (2016).

Martin Lowery (Joel Fry, YESTERDAY, 2019) is sent to track down a doctor whose research may provide desperately needed help in fighting a virus that has wreaked havoc on the human race. Martin himself has been in isolation for four months prior to this mission. He teams up with Alma (Ellora Torchia, MIDSOMMAR, 2019), a Park Ranger who works out of a Lodge that has been closed for a year due to the pandemic. She will act as his guide on the 2 day hike through the dense forest to find the doctor.

As you would expect, the hike doesn’t go smoothly, and things turn very weird and dangerous when Martin and Alma cross paths with Zach (Reece Shearsmith, HIGH-RISE, 2015). He’s the ex-husband of Dr. Wendle, the one Martin and Alma are in search of. However, Zach is off the grid and off his (proverbial) rocker. He converses with the forest, which might possibly be his most normal action.

Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires, I, DANIEL BLAKE) is finally located, and though she and Martin know each other, she seems quite intent on finishing her research in the forest. Back at the Lodge, Alma had filled Martin in on a local folk tale … the Spirit of the Woods, named Parnag. Most just call it, “the thing in the woods.” Are we to believe nature is evil, or is nature just fighting back against humans?

Written by Wheatley last year, the film shows the effects of a pandemic on some people and how trying to solve things through science may fall short. Paranoia, distrust, dread, and isolation from others are all at play here – and quite in line with our current state. A supernatural element hovers, but the psychedelic images keep us disoriented, and seem to exist for the sole purpose of visual effects. The strobes are so strong they could trigger responses from sensitive viewers, and if they don’t, the gore likely will. Cinematographer Nick Gillespie and composer Clint Mansell are standouts here, and though Wheatley is to be commended for his quick work, the film didn’t really click for me. Perhaps the two best comparisons are THE HAPPENING (2008) and the far superior ANNIHILATION (2018).

In theaters April 30, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


LOVING VINCENT (2017)

October 13, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. For those skeptics who scoff when filmmaking is described as an art form and labor of love, co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman invite you to take in their nearly decade-in-the-making project. It’s the first fully hand-painted on canvas feature film – experimental filmmaking crafted by more than 100 artists and including an estimated 130 paintings, with 65,000 individual shots/frames.

The spectacular visuals were created by painting over the images … both of actors performing scenes and van Gogh’s paintings. By adding to and amending images, even 10 times or more, the scenes come to life with movement and a pulsating psychedelic feel. The familiar colors of his paintings create a level of connection, while black & white images are used for flashbacks and reenactments.

Though we have never seen this look on screen before (this goes beyond Linklater’s WAKING LIFE), the stunning visuals are accompanied by what can be described as a detective story or murder/suicide mystery. It picks up in 1891, one year after van Gogh’s suspicious death. A local Arles postman holds one last letter from Vincent to his beloved brother Theo. Having held onto it for much too long, he asks his son Armand Roulin to hand-deliver the letter to Theo. Sporting the yellow blazer so recognizable from his portrait, the angry and skeptical Armand heads to Paris. Little does he know, this is only the beginning of his journey … a journey that finds him researching Vincent’s life and a journey that helps him discover more about himself.

There have been many movies made focusing on this amazing artist: LUST FOR LIFE (1956), VINCENT (1987), VINCENT & THEO (1990), and VAN GOGH (1991). This one is filled with contrasting and conflicting stories, theories and recollections, and descriptions of events from those who crossed paths with the artist on a daily basis. We listen right along with Armand as he spends time in Avers-sur-Oise … where Vincent lived, painted, and died.

Many of the actors involved are recognizable even in this artistic format: Chris O’Dowd is the postman, Douglas Booth is Armand, John Sessions plays art supplier Pete Tanguy, Eleanor Thompson is the innkeeper’s daughter Adaline, Jerome Flynn is the controversial Dr. Gachet, Saoirse Ronan is Gachet’s daughter Margarita (recognizable from her piano portrait), Helen McCrory plays the disgruntled Gachet housekeeper, Aidan Turner is the boatman, and Robert Gulaczyk is Vincent. Since these folks were all part of van Gogh’s artwork, we are fascinated to see them come to “life”.

Vincent van Gogh picked up a brush for the first time at age 28. He was dead at age 37, and left behind approximately 800 paintings of portraits and landscapes – many among the most famous pieces in the world today. Did he try to commit suicide as he claimed or was there a more sinister explanation for his death? Of course the filmmakers only hint at possible answers and can’t solve a mystery that is approaching two centuries. Understanding the man is challenging, and perhaps our best hope is through the work he left behind. This is a compelling cinematic experience and we have certainly benefitted from the filmmaker’s labor of love. Clint Mansell’s score leans heavily on strings and piano, and is perfect accompaniment for the story. One could question the closing credits use of Lianne La Havas’ version of “Vincent” (renamed “Starry Starry Night”) rather than Don McLean’s, but one mystery per day is plenty. Spot the paintings, play detective, and mostly enjoy the visuals built on the works of a complex, talented, and tragic figure.

watch the trailer: