19 January 2008


I managed to miss the buzz surrounding this movie. If you did too, suffice to say that there's a pretty well done viral advertising scheme bolstering it's awesomeness. It's a really cool idea, and I kind of regret not having been more aware of it. But going into the movie mostly ignorant had a distinct pleasure to it as well. If you haven't heard anything about the movie, I highly suggest you stop reading right now and avoid any press about the film at all and just go see it. The less you know, the better. When you get home, check out the wiki entry and follow the links in it, because it's a stunning display of the combined powers of film and internet in the service of storytelling. 

But leaving that aside, wow. This movie is fucking awesome. Conceptually brilliant, and really, really well executed - a ingenious take on the monster movie genre. Rather than attempt to capture what happens when Manhattan is beset by a monster from a kind of 3rd person narration, the movie is relentlessly perspectival a la Blair Witch Project. It completely submits to the limits of the first-person handicam perspective. In other words, we never find out what the monster is, how it got there - really, what's going on at all. It's not necessarily a new idea - Children of Men tried a similar approach. But it works in this movie in ways that it just didn't, for me, in that one. If civilization as we know it is coming to an end, we wanna know more about it. Monster movies, on the other hand, usually have fairly ridiculous back-stories, and dispensing with that stuff altogether in the film is a great move. Let the internet do that part, so people like me don't have to be annoyed by it. I'm too cynical to take that type of shit seriously. If you're gonna do it, it better be ridiculous - I'm talking ham sandwiches and lightning strikes and full moon type action, because if you give me some kind of complicated explanation without a hint of irony, you're just gonna come off as ridiculous. I appreciate the backstory that the internet is constructing, especially because it's sparse and shrouded in mystery and I don't know much about it. Let's keep it that way.

I also really respect the movie for sticking to its guns, for the most part, with its initial conceit. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie are all just footage of what these people are doing on the night of the attack. It's long. It's ridiculously long. It's almost too much. But it humanizes the characters in a really clever way. And the idea of having this movie being taped over another film, leading to occasional flickers of the material taped before, which does the love story work of the film - a really nice touch. It gives you a way to engage with the film sentimentally in a way that is more show than tell. 

But it's not just the way the story is handled that is so intelligent, but also the way that the movie is filmed. The most intense parts of the movie happen just out of sight. In this way, the movie acknowledges that one's own imagination is far better at crafting scenes of carnage than any director. At the same time, there's more than enough visual stimulus to keep your jaw on the floor for a good hour. It is seriously neato. The camerawork, though it takes some getting used to, is phenomenal - an awful lot of very impressive work to give you the impression of someone who has no idea what they're doing, and to brilliant effect. As my friend Jen pointed out, there are great moments where the camera is struggling to focus that are just fantastic.The carnage is incredible, and really visually stunning. Though here, I can't help but think about the aestheticization of horror, and Walter Benjamin's claim (in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) that mankind is headed for trouble because "its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order". Because there are definitely scenes in this movie that, it seems to me, are direct references to footage from 9/11 - which is referred to only once in the film, and obliquely - early on you hear someone in the background say "Is it another attack?". But the shaky, frenzied camerawork, running down stairs, dust in the streets - you can't help but remember footage from 9/11. I am not criticizing this aspect of the film, it just occurs to me as kind of interesting. 

The only thing that really disappointed me with the movie was the ending. I don't want to say too much about it, but let's just say that the movie couldn't quite resist tying up its narrative ends - it couldn't quite uphold the first-person premise. The urge to eulogize proved irresistable, I guess. It's a bit sentimentalized, though not too terribly heavy-handed, and it's not a bad ending, just, I think, a rather unfortunate missed opportunity for something really mind-blowing and original. Had the film ended 10 minutes earlier, which it easily could have, it would have been absolutely stunning, but it kept going just a wee bit longer than it should have. A pity, a real pity. Still though - it's a brilliant movie. I have no doubt that it'll be a cult classic. Definitely go see it in theatres - it ought to be viewed on the big screen, to fully appreciate its splendour. Two thumbs up.

1 comment:

Veruka2 said...

Oh man, yea. Jen is so smart. You should listen to her a lot.

No, but seriously, I know this makes me a huge film nerd and a total amateur at the same time, but in that one scene near the end, where Hud is lying in the grass, and the auto focus on the digicam is tracking in and out of focus on his face, then the grass, then his face, then the grass, over and over...I immediately thought it was genius, and one of the most visually stunning photographic moves of the entire film. And yet the thing I said to myself as I was watching it was, "Dude. Tarantino would have never thought of that."

I am so ashamed of myself.