Sean K. Cureton

Archive for November, 2014|Monthly archive page

A Space Odyssey Remembered

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on November 22, 2014 at 10:06 am
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Interstellar
3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Interstellar is probably the most highly anticipated film of the year, setting it up for the potential disappointment that comes with a film as over-hyped as this one most certainly is, while also granting it the space required for it to grow in what ever direction it needs to, its dreams un-tethered to the expectations associated with an unknown director’s work, and allowing for its final grand gestures towards cosmic significance to feel genuine despite itself. Coming off of a string of seminal films that have succeeded in establishing Christopher Nolan as one of the greatest directors of his generation, Interstellar builds upon an already established and credible legacy, leaning on the iconographic cache of Nolan’s name in order to attempt the making of one of the most sought after goals in Hollywood: the making of a space odyssey. Inevitably, Nolan pulls upon such unavoidable inspirations and sources as Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas in order to do so, but is still able to instill his impeccably distinguishable touch into his own work, giving his audience a film that is cinematically compelling, even if we have seen its like before. While Nolan’s new space odyssey doesn’t offer any new avenue into the sci-fi genre, stumbling over the convolutions of plot that occur in the narrative’s utilization of time travel, it’s hard not to stand in awe of the film’s technical mastery. Watching Nolan’s film is akin to recapturing the innocence of our collective youth, ephemeral in its impermanence, playful in its mimicry of its forebears, and awesome in its genuine sense of wonder, still caught up in the dreams of childhood that we have long since been shaken awake from.

Intersellar is deeply indebted, both in terms of narrative and aesthetics, to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as such sets off in search of new territory from the well of Kubrick’s pervasive influence on both the genre and Nolan’s film itself. By taking the very best aspects of Arthur C. Clarke’s original screenplay and Kubrick’s authorial vision, Nolan attempts to neatly repackage what audiences have already seen in a way that is surprising, fitted to modern times and his own cinematic sensibilities. Essentially reformatting Kubrick’s classic vision of the omniscient wonder of space to a contemporary, ecologically driven narrative, wherein earth is becoming uninhabitable and depleted of sustainable farmland, Nolan pulls on the grandness of the space odysseys of the 1970’s and 1980’s, inhabiting a dreamscape that was once pure fantasy made into a more tangible reality within the scope of his film. One of the most stirring aspects of Interstellar is its fascination and intimate love for deep space exploration, reinvigorating a dying enthusiasm for space travel and the sci-fi epic that has long lain dormant in our collective subconscious for nearly a decade, only to be reinvigorated once more by the majesty of film, propelling us out of our seats and into the stars. Interstellar is by no means Nolan’s greatest achievement, unmemorable in its constant allusions and trace resemblances to such classics as Kubrick’s aforementioned odyssey, but its level of visual tenacity and outright beauty is a marvel to behold, urging you to watch more closely, and revel in the silence of yet another small step for man, leaping into the void in order to reinvigorate our long lost love for celestial drama.

Probably the most glaring criticism to be made about the film comes in the laziness of its many conveniences and contrivances of plot, most notably being the overly sappy and Kubrick-esque third act, wherein the familial drama that forms much of the film’s thematic center is married to the fictive surrealism of the plot’s poorly delivered sci-fi tropes. Granted, the climactic portion of the film that bears the brunt of a lot of this specific source of criticism looks remarkably similar to Kubrick’s final sequence in 2001, but where Kubrick was driven by the camera, alienating and isolating his viewer’s in the process of crafting some of the most well edited and composed shots in terms of cinematography, while alienating and confusing his audience in the process, Nolan’s film is interested in the characters, their stories and connections to one another as important as Nolan’s debts and connections to his audience. While certain aspects of the familial drama do feel Spielbergian in their overt manipulation of the audience’s sympathies and investment in the film, it’s also a thematic point of fundamental significance that serves to anchor the viewer’s investment over the course of the film’s near three hour run time. What’s more, this familial drama is set up clearly in the film’s script from act one, is seamlessly carried over through an emotionally taut second act, and finally grants climactic closure in a third act that feels well earned and genuine, sentimentalism carrying the drama and action throughout. As was the case in Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 ecological fable Silent Running, Nolan implements genre filmmaking in order to tell a story of the warmth and compassion of humanism, setting his film apart from the cold, nihilistic detachment of Kubrick, and making Interstellar stand out on its own, definitively Nolan-esque. It might not be the most memorable film within Nolan’s oeuvre, but it’s certainly one of the year’s best, populated by characters that are compelled by the cinematic vision of an auteur, and carried on the shoulders of the script’s structural, if not scientifically cogent, mastery.

Without a doubt, Interstellar is a film that will be talked about for weeks to come, and will be the center of a lot of Oscar Buzz as we head into awards season, but it likely won’t be the recipient of the Academy’s final selections for artistic recognition. Nolan’s admirable attempt at the space odyssey often feels a little too redundant in its wistful reminiscing of what has come before, leaving the viewer in a state of disaffectedness as the credits begin to roll, left with the knowledge that the film was in fact directed by Christopher Nolan, his name holding more aesthetic power and cohesiveness than the film itself, lacking the character of The Dark Knight and the clarity of Inception. The stylistic indebtedness that the film holds to the sci-fi heyday of the 1970’s and 1980’s is a welcome resurgence that strives to carry on the example set by Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar winner from last year, and next year’s The Martian directed by Ridley Scott seems to be further promise of the genre’s reemergence as critically and commercially viable. However, Interstellar’s grandness might also be its downfall, just as big cinematically as Star Wars, Alien, or Blade Runner, but not nearly as vital, lacking a certain authorial urgency and heart that defines the three aforementioned classics, Nolan merely playacting as Kubrick in a dilapidated playground of adolescent exuberance, contented but not inspired. For all of its cinematic effectiveness on its own terms, Interstellar struggles to surpass its inspirations, treading water in the tidal pools of recursive nostalgia, the vast ocean of independent innovation lying beyond its comfortable recesses in the sand.

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Empathy in the Youth Film

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on November 19, 2014 at 11:30 am
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Good Will Hunting (1997)
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Netflix Rating: Didn’t Like It

Released to near universal critical acclaim in 1997, Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting is a youth film, written by its young stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, at the very beginning of their respective careers, largely memorable due to its incredibly effective distillation of the hubristic follies of young adulthood, charming in its innate self-assuredness, a veritable Catcher in the Rye of the late 1990’s. And yet, much of the film is carried on the shoulders of the Oscar winning supporting role given by the late, great comic actor Robin Williams, whose turn as Damon’s therapist is moving in its authenticity, belying the respective artifice of the surrounding drama, including Damon’s titular role, the film clinging to Williams’ inability to turn in a false performance, his deep well of humanity imbuing the film with all of the empathy that the script lacks even the awareness of. Likewise, Van Sant feels aimless and lost in his direction of the film, unable to take the viewer anywhere interesting or tangible, moving from one passing point of interest to another without providing a larger dramatic context for much of the film’s capricious ennui, the entire film shapeless and ephemeral, tonally and thematically vacant. Damon and Affleck have both proven themselves to be creative and capable performers, but Good Will Hunting is not their greatest work, marking it as something of an oddity, its credible encapsulation of the universality of youth its simultaneous flaw, the film coming off as prophetically hopeful for a future that is still unrealized in the minds of its protagonists, not to mention its screenwriters. For all intents and purposes, Good Will Hunting is a good movie, capturing the aimless antics of its precocious miscreant accurately, but without grasping the larger poeticism of his world, Van Sant’s film in the same state of arrested development as its subject.

Throughout the film, Damon’s Will Hunting is presented to the audience as an immediately likable protagonist, troubled by a past that remains as vague to the audience as it does to the film itself, Hunting’s history of domestic abuse at the hands of his foster father as believable as any of the other lies Hunting employs over the course of the film in order to remain detached, immune, and incapable of the responsibilities of adulthood, as personified by Stellan Skarsgard’s professorial interest in Hunting’s innate mathematic abilities. Despite the script’s sophomoric good will towards Hunting’s trials and tribulations, his memorable wooing of Minnie Driver’s moneyed pre-med student made problematic by his own self-loathing and lack of self-worth, much of the internal drama feels shallow, lifted from greater scripts and stories to no effect when translated to the film’s dramatization of working class Bostonians. Left with no scriptural evidence for his protagonist’s deep soulfulness, Van Sant is forced to shoot several sequences in which Damon lounges with an air of disgruntlement, his constant slouching and listless gaze indicative of a humanity that is dramatically absent, leaving the film cinematically listless as well. Damon and Affleck attempt to gain the audience’s sympathy again and again, imploring the viewer through scene after scene of weighty dialogue, attempting to present Hunting as a misguided Boston tough worthy of praise and upward mobility, his erudite and pithy demeanor one worth saving. And yet, for all of the empathy that the script seems to feel for Hunting, Hunting feels none for the viewer, divorcing Van Sant’s film of the empathy in its protagonist that is necessary for any dramatic catharsis to feel well earned, as opposed to the abrupt inconclusiveness on display in Hunting’s climactic departure for California.

In order for a film about the turmoil of youth to work, there must be a base line from which the audience may empathize with the film’s protagonist, and that protagonist must in turn be capable of empathy, else the audience feel disconnected from the film in much the same way that the protagonist feels disconnected from the world. At the time when Good Will Hunting was written, Damon and Affleck were barely out of their 20’s themselves, and thus still caught up in their own personal journeys of self-discovery, lending their script much of the tumultuous and unformed aura of their own respective immaturities at the time. While some of this irreverence for and of the world undoubtedly lends the film much of its viscerally driven appeal, Damon’s Will Hunting and Affleck’s Chuckie Sullivan as eager to move onward and upward as the stars themselves, this eagerness largely comes off as ignorant navel gazing, assuredly striving towards something greater that is still clouded by the ego of young adulthood. After all, one of the most deceptive aspects of youth is its assuredness that everything is easily remedied, as one’s solutions at the time predominantly extend only so far as to help oneself, the larger world still far off in the realm of full blown maturity and a more worldly understanding of other people’s needs, hopes, and desires as compared to your own. Will Hunting definitively reaches personal discovery by film’s end, but his decision to leave town without letting anyone know, including his new employers, marks his final decision as one made without any forethought, his development in a state of continual arrested self-involvement, getting the girl but not coming of age, marking Van Sant’s film as shallow and incomplete, its centripetal preoccupation with youth as stunted and belligerent as an unruly teenager.

For all of its atonality and narrative missteps, Good Will Hunting is persistently watchable, carried by Robin Williams’ respective maturity and empathy, lending Damon’s Will Hunting just enough humility and pathos to evoke sympathy in the viewer for his plight. And yet, despite the compelling likability generated by Williams’ award worthy performance, the sympathy that is generated in the viewer comes off as overtly manipulative, marking the film as the irretrievable dramatic failure that it always has been, a youth film where the adult is the real hero. Where other great coming of age masterpieces situate their young protagonists at the moral center, Damon’s Will Hunting must be taught empathy from an elder, his own ability to emote stunted by a preoccupation with the self that proves to be too all-consuming to allow for any true dramatic progression on his own terms, causing the film to sputter and gasp for air in a deluge of self-pity and painfully rendered, self-aggrandizing monologues, apologetic, but never sincere. Contrastingly, Mike Nichols’ 1967 opus, The Graduate, imbues Dustin Hoffman’s anti-hero with all of the morals and guilt that should by all rights be found in his elders, which is why the ending is so satisfying, the two youths escaping one corrupt adult world for another of their own potential making and subsequent undoing; in a similar vein, Robert Redford’s 1980 tragedy, Ordinary People, is moving in the way in which it leaves Timothy Hutton’s emotionally scarred survivor, having braved his way through both literal and figurative storms only to find himself alone on the shore, finally a man, but weighed down with all of the trappings and responsibilities rightly associated with his newfound maturity. Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting is as harrowing and tumultuous a drama as either of these two greater films, but without any sense of true progression, dramatic or otherwise, Damon’s titular youth in much the same way as he was at the start of the film, sympathetic perhaps, but incapable of the type of empathy that is necessary to the youth film genre’s continued relevance and poetic resonance, Will Hunting respectively withdrawn and figuratively restrained, Van Sant’s film a study in emotional stagnancy.

Good Will Hunting is available on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies on Netflix: Review of the Week.

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Synecdoche, Lite

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on November 15, 2014 at 10:12 am
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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
4 out of 4 stars
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Michael Keaton’s most recent cinematic turn as Riggan Thomas in Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman is the bravest performance of the year from a leading actor, laying bare all of Keaton’s insecurities, vanities, and virtues through a fictional character who possesses more than a passing resemblance to Keaton himself. Riggan is a washed up, out of work Hollywood actor, attempting to breath new life into a public image that has been distorted and manipulated by the cult of celebrity, bringing with it all of the personal vices of arrogance, avarice, and self-absorption that such distortions of self-worth and identity inevitably represent and instill. Likewise, Keaton is a figure of the popular culture who appears as more of a caricature than a three-dimensional actor in the collective mind of the general public, associated with some of the most iconic movie characters from the 1990’s, including Batman and Beetlejuice, thereby mirroring Riggan’s association in Inarritu’s film with the fictional big budget superhero, and at times near literal alter-ego, Birdman. Inarritu’s film thus becomes an examination of the blockbuster movie star, simultaneously celebrating and deriding the actor whose relevancy is at times more dependent upon the associations conjured up by the characters he portrays as opposed to the power of each individual performance, Birdman bigger than Riggan, in much the same way that Beetlejuice looms larger than Keaton, in both name and persona. Michael Keaton’s cultural status as one of the big budget stars of the 1990’s thus becomes a meta-fictional aspect of the very fabric of Innaritu’s film, inevitably informing the audience as to how to read Riggan’s deeply conflicted interiority and ego-driven flights of astrally projected fantasy, visually represented in the film through Inarritu’s use of one continuous, and spectacularly edited, long shot, seamlessly encompassing the entire film, and further mirroring Riggan’s subjective vision and reality in a way that is intensely characteristic of the film, the character, and the surreal nature of Inarritu’s beautiful meditation on the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

The frame narrative of Inarritu’s film centers around a stage production of the classic American short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by minimalist writer Raymond Carver, adapted and produced by Keaton’s Riggan Thomas in the lead role, providing for an accessible point of entry into the film’s visually driven first person narrative, as Riggan’s highly subjective point of view very quickly begins to drive the entire course, and at times alter the reality of, the film’s plot and cinematic scope. As the camera pans across and through the small, claustrophobic hallways and back stages of New York’s Broadway theatre district, the playhouse a veritable Pandora’s box of Riggan’s artistic dreams, hopes, and delusions, the viewer is swept up in the storm of his creative fruition, bordering on the insanity and emotional fragility that makes up the core of Inarritu’s film. When we first see Riggan, he is literally floating in mid-air in his dressing room, a ludicrous first shot that boldly establishes the subjective unreality of the film, and immediately establishes a clear directorial vision, one that will be impossible to outwit or predict, making for a deeply compelling and intimately truthful performance based piece of storytelling. According to the demands of the one shot take that establishes the subjectivity of the narrative, every other actor’s performance becomes a part of one long stream of Riggan’s conscious and subconscious, each line delivered with the grace and elocution of live theatre, the players all a part of one organism in motion, their individually delivered performances in active participation with the creation of Keaton’s persona, the entire film brimming with a communal vitality. In establishing a film centered on, around, and within one character, Inarritu has created his own subjective world in Birdman, one that mirrors the celebrity driven popular culture of our own, each one of us supporting actors and walk-on’s in the theatre of celebrity and fame, all of us culpable in the ignorance of Riggan Thomas.

In this way, Inarritu’s film is about solipsism, with its closest precursor in terms of thematic scope and directorial vision being Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, wherein the subjective reality of the New York actor and playwright is examined with the fierceness of an unforgiving and distinctively authorial force, at times remarkable in its overstated ambition and pretentious precocity. And yet, Birdman is never overly heady, as Kaufman’s film is, never treading too far into the subjective lens so as to become impenetrable, self-avowedly brilliant but visually opaque. Where Kaufman seems to be too overly in love with his own brilliance, his protagonist suitably left in a literal apocalypse of his own creation by film’s end, Inarritu’s Riggan is relatively warm, capable of emoting and connecting with those around him, even if they are all forced to co-inhabit his own subjective dreams and nightmares. Where Kaufman’s New York Theatre is filled with shadows of narrative misdirection and evasion, coupled with the indecipherable, Joycean mutterings of the literary intelligentsia, Inarritu’s is inhabited with the light of the artist still struggling to connect with his audience, embittered towards the academic establishments of theatre and film criticism, and eager to engage with Carver’s comparatively accessible text. Birdman is a worthy successor to Kaufman’s film, more immediate and emotionally compelling than Synecdoche’s grand opera, delivering the equivalent of a three and a half minute pop song to Kaufman’s twenty-two minute progressive rock noodling, Synecdoche, Lite in essence.

Despite the near insurmountable ambition and hubris of the film’s concept and subject matter, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman lives up to the self-conscious precocity of its subtitle, examining the socio-cultural status of the Hollywood celebrity through the eyes of a falling star. Michael Keaton makes a stunning comeback performance as Riggan Thomas that ranks as one of the best performances of the year, in addition to an already enviable body of work from the past. The level of meta-fictional, self-reference that Keaton is able to pull upon to lend some empathetic tragedy and intimacy to the iconographic nature of a former Hollywood superhero is effectively comical and heartbreaking, Riggan’s professional and personal association with the Birdman character as inseparable from his sense of self-identity as Batman is to Keaton in the public eye, lending the film much of its satirical bite and cultural relevance. And yet, for all of its carefully composed strategic plotting that might feel a little too smart for its own good in anyone else’s hands, Inarritu never falls prey to cinematic convenience or contrivance, his story of artistic redemption moving and dramatically satisfying, hopeful despite the melancholy of its character’s solipsistic ambition. When Riggan finally soars free at the end of the film, both in terms of creative fulfillment and surrealistically projected fantasy, the final note is hopeful, even though the viewer knows that the character still resides within his own head, ignorance his and our creative bliss, made necessary once more by the film’s titular and unexpected virtue.

The Allure of Sadism

In My Favorite Movies on November 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm
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Saw
Directed by James Wan
Commercial Release: October 29, 2004

Originally conceived as a nine and a half minute short film, the low budget, quasi-exploitation feature Saw is currently being celebrated with a 10th Anniversary theatrical re-release in theatres, and is one of the key sources of cinematic influence within the culture of the contemporary horror film genre from the past decade. Alongside such notable disseminators of high-decibel terror as Darren Lynn Bousman, Eli Roth, and Tom Six, Australian director James Wan is one of the most successful, commercial filmmakers among a band of compatriots intent on taking the horror film to its most extreme and depraved depths. Through the substitution of psychological terror for cheap, bloody thrills, memorable in terms of sheer sensory explicitness, and frightening in their unrelenting use of vulgar brutality, Wan and Company have made a name for themselves by placating an audience that seems to revel in distressingly shocking and unsettling cinematic imagery. And yet, despite the viscerally compelling nature of these films, collectively they are more often than not macabre to the point of banality, paying homage to all of the various horror genre tropes and tableaux to the point of cinematic regression and stagnancy, unaware and tactless in their hyper-aesthetic send up to the form. Possibly one of the most cited and well known aspects of the original Saw film is its central antagonist’s predilection for elaborate torture, dismemberment, and death, played out as a series of puzzles in which his victims are forced to capitulate and play, else die in a brutal blood bath, each demise more sick and twisted than the last. In the original film, one of the victims is found impaled amid a nest of barbed wires, another narrowly escapes having her jaw ripped open by a bear trap, and the film’s central protagonist is forced to desperately search for a saw with which to perform self-amputation, sans anesthesia and tourniquet.

The lurid nature of the Jigsaw Killer’s homicidal actions in the original Saw gave rise and license to a slew of sequels predicated on delivering more of the same, each subsequent installment in the franchise bloated with grisly extremist violence. In response, the larger commercialization of the contemporary horror genre has become more explicit in its depictions of violence than ever before, showing the sort of on screen gore that classic horror staples from decades past only ever implied, or used sparingly if graphically depicted at all. Where John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher-genre, original Halloween rarely depicts outright murder, with Michael Myers seen largely in shadow, amid intricately composed shots and meticulously edited sequences, the kind of gore and carnage that plagues the Rob Zombie directed re-make is comparatively excessive, marking Carpenter’s film as a classic and Zombie’s a disposable cheap trick, the first truly scary and the second merely nauseating. The larger proliferation of Zombie-level macabre, graphic violence has its roots in James Wan’s directorial debut, which has a decided preoccupation with the exploitative nature of its setting, giving way to the audience’s attraction towards the film’s psychopathic murderer, the perverted orchestrator of shock, awe, and gore. Jigsaw is the main draw of much of the Saw franchise’s continuing appeal and cultural relevance, and one of the main reasons why horror has become so synonymous with extended sequences of bondage and torture, bordering on the pornographic nature of the snuff film, and paving the way for a contemporary fetish for voyeuristic violence, divorcing the horror genre from terror, and marrying it to sadism.

And yet, on closer inspection, Saw isn’t about sadism at all. At its very core, from a structural stand point, Wan’s film is about two people trapped in a room together, forced to come to terms with life itself and how they see themselves in relation to the larger world, bringing up questions on the meaning of exsistence and morality. Yes, the film’s central protagonists are engaged in a sadistic exercise in contemporary horror genre violence and sadism that is potentially damaging to the reputation of the horror film, but a larger existentialist dialogue is submerged beneath the surface level gore. While Wan’s style as an auteur is decidedly over laden with senselessly nihilistic overtones, his intentions are good, and when the film focuses on its characters’ internal extrapolations it truly shines, reaching towards larger dramatic ambition and intellectually nuanced scares. While the film never truly finds its rhythm, oscillating between scenes of dramatic tension between its two central protagonists, and sequences of luridly revolting, shock-based theatrics, Saw is singular in its approach towards its subjects, offering an avenue into its bondage-based scares that is tasteful, coming off as being both respectful of and primarily interested in its victims, even if they don’t always get away in the end.

And yet, for all of Wan’s understated cleverness and underlying dramatic ingenuity, Saw is still remembered for the moral perversions of the Jigsaw Killer, and the creative ways in which he chooses to kill his victims. While Wan never directed or wrote any of the subsequent films in the franchise, his mark on the contemporary horror genre as a whole can be traced to this particular series of films, ushering in an era of nihilism and detachment within the horror genre that still permeates the popular culture. American director Darren Lynn Bousman, who took over the Saw franchise starting with the second installment, took up creative reins to a series that has since become centered around a brand of cinematic violence that is depraved, debauched, and immoral in the treatment of its victims, the villain turned into the main attraction and perversely sympathetic hero. In addition to Bousman, directors such as Eli Roth and Tom Six have ensconced themselves within a horror genre culture of recreational homicide, producing such blockbusters as Hostel, wherein American tourists are tortured to death at a grisly European locale, and The Human Centipede, a sick and twisted Frankenstein tale, both proof of an ever growing taste for desensitizing violence and an intellectually dulled horror palate. While this strain of barbarism as spectacle is nothing new in terms of the history of the horror film, with the most notable example from the past being Tobe Hooper’s 1974 splatterfest The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s important to note that Hooper’s backwoods nightmare never feels exploitative thanks to its minimal set design, unsettling musical score, and effectively misleading editing, its outright depictions of violence implied, the viewer prodded into projecting the levels of sadisitic depravity that Bousman, Roth, and Six shoot outright, confining their films to the realm of documentary, overly fascinated with violence itself, as opposed to what that violence might mean or incite in the viewer, initially revolting but not consistently terrifying.

While the contemporary horror genre may be more unsettling than ever before, the original Saw film itself is not the source of this preoccupation with depravity. Rather, it is its poorly conceived atmosphere and perversely compelling violence that has helped to propagate sadism in the modern horror film, convincing many directors that their audiences truly crave sick and twisted horror movie villains and monsters, visceral debauchery the social currency of cultural relevancy and cinematic ingenuity. It’s ironic then that much of what makes James Wan’s debut feature film so interesting is its focus on the victims, the film less of an exploitation or bondage feature than an existentialist play, a poor man’s No Exit, hell found within the souls of Jigsaw’s victims, rather than within Jigsaw himself. Fortunately, Wan has found some less problematic success with his more recent cinematic fare, both in 2010’s haunted house romp Insidious and 2013’s surprisingly effective demonic possession feature The Conjuring, turning away from the obvious scares of the Saw franchise in order to explore some of the classic horror tropes and conceits that make his more recent outings so memorable and, may it be said, terrifying. And yet, James Wan is no modern master of horror, as of yet lacking the ability to tell a scary story that doesn’t rely entirely on what has come before, his films owing a lot to the form and the genre without elevating either to art. Nevertheless, he is possibly the greatest horror director of his generation, and Saw is a cultural landmark, and one of the most important horror films of the past ten years, even if its legacy is indebted to sadism, an unfortunate side effect that continues to bleed into the modern horror film to this day.

Saw is available to own on Blu-Ray and DVD, and is one of My Favorite Movies.