Unfair and Unbalanced

Christine

by Hope Madden

There’s a moment in Christine – Antonio Campos’s clinical character study of ‘70s on-air reporter Christine Chubbuck – when a violently depressed Christine chastises her mother’s parenting. Had she been a better parent, maybe Christine would understand how the world worked.

There is such honest, bewildered frustration in that moment. With that single thought, a career-best Rebecca Hall exposes Chubbuck’s isolated, lonely, crippled soul.

We’re invited to join the stormy decline of Chubbuck’s life. An awkward, severe professional at odds with the era’s sensationalistic news trends, Chubbuck clashes with her Sarasota station’s news manager (Tracy Letts) and pines for its handsome anchor (Michael C. Hall).

Chubbuck’s professional frustrations and personal isolation come to a head simultaneously. Thanks to Hall’s meticulous performance, what we can see is that the emotionally brittle, deeply depressed Chubbuck hasn’t the resilience to contend with it.

Hall’s body language, her gait, her facial expressions and her speech amplify her character’s growing turmoil. It’s a creeping darkness that grows to be almost unbearable before bursting into an eye-of-the-storm calm that’s even eerier for its realism.

Though Craig Shilowich’s screenplay leans too heavily on frustrated spinsterisms as a handy excuse for Chubbuck’s behavior, and Campos’s direction intentionally keeps Christine at arm’s length, Hall’s harrowing turn guarantees that Christine Chubbuck makes an impression.

Campos’s disturbing 2012 horror Simon Killer remained intentionally distant as well – a provocative approach that suited the mystery of the titular sociopath. Here, though, it feels too chilly, almost heartless.

That seems inappropriate, because neither Chubbuck nor those she left behind were heartless. In fact, one of the great successes in Hall’s performance is her ability to personify Chubbuck’s amazingly off-putting, alienating behavior while simultaneously pointing out that most of us are only a few social misjudgments away from pariah status ourselves.

Inevitably, the film feels like a 110-minute prelude to Chubbuck’s infamous on-air suicide, and that’s where Campos and Shilowich’s weaknesses show. What was at the heart of Chubbuck’s final display – institutional sexism, unending loneliness, mental illness, professional integrity, irony?

The filmmakers showed a great deal while exploring very little, but thanks to a performance likely to be remembered come awards season, Rebecca Hall makes sure Chubbuck’s struggle resonates.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Countdown: Best in Horror, 2013

 

At one point, it looked like 2013 was going to be a bloody banner year for horror. Remember that time? We’d already seen the magnificence of the Evil Dead remake as well as the spooktacular glory of the original The Conjuring, and we still had You’re Next, The Purge, Insidious: Chapter 2 and Carrie to go? Too bad those last few couldn’t live up to expectations.

The year did produce a handful of really excellent horror flicks, though. Here is our Top 5.

5. Byzantium

Director Neil Jordan returned to the modern day/period drama vampire yarn this year. Thanks to two strong leads, he pulls it off. Saoirse Ronan is the perfectly prim and ethereal counterbalance to Gemma Arterton’s street-savvy survivor, and we follow their journey as they avoid The Brotherhood who would destroy them for making ends meet and making meat of throats. Jordan’s new vampire drama attempts a bit of feminism but works better as a tortured love story.

4. Simon Killer

The effortlessly creepy Brady Corbet plays the title role in Simon Killer, a college kid alone in Paris after a messy break up. He’s loathsome and  cowardly and impossible to ignore as he hatches a plan with his new prostitute girlfriend – a wonderfully tender Constance Rousseau – to make some quick cash. The film draws you in like a thriller before morphing into a sinister character study that will leave you shaken.

3. We Are What We Are

Not enough people saw this gem, and even fewer saw the brilliant Mexican original, but both are essential horror viewing. The reboot takes a very urban, very Mexican tale and spins it as American gothic, with wildly successful results. From the same writing/directing team that brought forth Stake Land (if you haven’t seen it, you really should), this is one of the few Americanized versions of foreign horror to satisfy – although you may not be hungry again for a while.

2. Evil Dead

Naming #1 was a tough call because of this one, among the all time best reboots in horror history. Fede Alvarez (with some help from the Oscar winning pen of Diablo Cody) respects the source material while still carving out his own vision. Goretastic, scary, and unexpectedly surprising given how closely it aligns itself to its predecessors, the movie has it all – including more gallons of blood than any film in history. Seriously.

1. The Conjuring

James Wan mixes the percussive scares of modern horror with the escalating dread of old fashioned genre pieces, conjuring a giddy-fun spookhouse ride guaranteed to make you jump. And he did it all without FX. A game cast helped, but credit Wan for the meandering camera, capturing just what we needed to see at the exact second that it would do the most damage.

Not So Simple Simon

Simon Killer

By George Wolf

If you’re in the market for a creepy guy, I suggest Brady Corbet.

Corbet, while probably a perfectly nice young man, is proving to be skilled at acting creepy, most notably in Melancholia, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and the American version of Funny Games.

He gets his meatiest role to date in Simon Killer, a film he also co-wrote. Corbet shines as the title character, a recent college graduate who takes off for Paris after a mysteriously nasty break-up.

Struggling to fit in, he strikes an uneasy relationship with a local prostitute, and soon hatches a plan to make them both big money by blackmailing her clients.

Director Antonio Campos sets the film up as a possible thriller, then slowly draws you into what becomes a character study of a manipulative sociopath. While some may  wonder what the point is, there is a hypnotic nature to the film that keeps you interested in Simon, and what he is capable of.

Corbet skillfully creates a character that’s easy to hate, yet impossible to ignore, while Campos, obviously influenced by director Gaspar Noe, utilizes pulsing rhythms and disorienting visuals to craft his dark world.

Pretentious in spots but ultimately fascinating, Simon Killer is a creepy keeper.

Verdict-3-5-Stars