Cinema Junkie Looks To A Trio Of New Films
Horror and foreign films open today
This week there is a diverse array of film choices from around the world and assorted genres. You can choose amongst the horror film “A Quiet Place,” the Israeli drama “Foxtrot,” and “Tehran Taboo” by a German-Iranian animator.
“A Quiet Place”
“A Quiet Place” gives us a future where aliens have invaded and taken over Earth. They are big, bug-like creatures with apparently zero vision or sense of smell but with acute hearing. In fact, they can hone in on the tiniest, briefest sound and use that to brutally hunt a human or animal down. Those who have managed to survive on the planet have done so by not making any noise. We are introduced to the Abbott family, parents Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and little Beau (Cade Woodward).
The opening of the film is great. There is no music and we sense the tension of living in a world where sound can kill you. And we are given a savage, abrupt example of what that can mean before the opening title comes up.
The film then jumps to about a year later. The family has managed to survive and to set up a home camp that provides them with everything they need in terms of food, water, shelter, and electricity. They seem to have adjusted to the demands of this new world but Evelyn is pregnant. Silence is particularly challenging when you’re about to give birth and a trio of those alien bug monsters is just waiting for you to make a sound.
I am happy to give any film a leap of faith. By that I mean, I’ll accept any premise a filmmaker might want to come up with whether it’s about a zombie apocalypse, superpowers, or talking animals. The only condition is that the filmmaker needs to adhere to whatever inner logic he or she lays down.
For “A Quiet Place,” writer-director-star John Krasinski conceives of a clever premise and a wicked cool monster. But he makes it clear that the slightest, briefest sound is all that’s needed to attract one of the alien’s attention and lead it directly to a person. So his film lost me when (sort of spoiler) a birth takes place in absolute silence with the baby somehow knowing not to make a peep. Really? Maybe a woman could keep from screaming or grunting or even breathing loudly, maybe, but there’s no way a newborn infant could understand the dynamics of the world he or she is being born into and know instinctively not to make a sound or to cry or to gurgle or burp.
Once Krasinski strains credibility in such a ridiculous manner (it took me a few minutes to stop laughing after the miracle birth) I started to think more about other aspects of the film and how difficult such complete silence might actually be. What about sneezing? Snoring? Or as my friend kept asking, “What if you fart?”
Then I started looking at things they built and began to wonder how do you put in posts or use nails without making a sound? Then it didn’t help that the post-apocalypse looked designed by Martha Stewart with adorable jarred food in neatly ordered and sized rows, and everything looking like a hipster DIY craft project. The family compound/farm has beautiful strings of lights, all pristine looking and every one of the hundreds of bulbs identical. It’s all so pretty and quaint, and just a little hard to buy.
And for a film where sound is so important to the lives of the characters, Krasinski doesn’t really pay all that much heed to the sound design of his film. He opens the film well with no music but then resorts to a typical horror score to drown out the silence. He also has one character, Regan, be deaf or at least hard of hearing, and he never really plays with that. Sure we get one predictable scene where she can’t hear the monster behind her but she must experience the world differently than the rest of the family, and it must be hard for her to know when she’s in danger of making noise when she can’t hear if the ground she is walking on is crackling with leaves or grinding with rocks. The film doesn’t have a nuanced sense of sound just a superficial attention to characters trying to be quiet. It’s a shame because it is a missed opportunity to really play with an element of film that is too often overlooked.
But the monsters are well rendered and we get a hint of how they hear the world, and the sound design for what noises they make is great. Another big plus in the film is the marvelous (and deaf in real life) actress Millicent Simmonds as Regan.
“A Quiet Place” is frustrating because it does some things exceeding well but then ruins the story’s credibility by its careless lack of concern for other aspects.
It’s not surprising that a film critical of Iran would have to be made outside of the country (although filmmakers like Jafar Panahi often push the envelope to see how far they can criticize from within). “Tehran Taboo” is a German-Austrian co-production made by German-Iranian filmmaker and animator Ali Soozandeh.
“Tehran Taboo” focuses on a quartet of modern-day Iranians, three women and a man, who attempt to naviagate through Iran’s restrictive culture. The film considers the repression an artist feels when his music is not deemed acceptable and it also explores the moral repressiveness that can make a drunken prank call about sex a crime meriting imprisonment. But the main focus is on how difficult it is for women to live in a society where men have all the power. One woman cannot take a job unless her husband comes in to officially give permission for her to accept the position.
The film uses rotoscope animation to tell its story. This technique of animation involves animators tracing over live action footage frame by frame to create a fully animated movie. This style was probably made most famous by Ralph Bakshi (“Lord of the Rings,” “Wizards,” “American Pop”) and Richard Linklater (“Waking Life,” “A Scanner Darkly”).
In an age of 3-D computer animation, rotoscoping may seem old school but it has a beauty and appeal that pulls you in. Soozandeh’s film also boasts complex and nuanced characters driven by conflicting emotions and constant struggles.
“Tehran Taboo” (playing exclusively at Digital Gym Cinema for one week) is enlightening and engaging. It manages to be both tragic and wryly funny as it explores social, cultural and political issues of modern Iran.
Samuel Maoz’ “Foxtrot” begins with a family being informed of their son’s death. The boy was a soldier and his parents are told he has been killed but the military has few details and refuses to let the father see the body.
But the family eventually gets even stranger news and the film develops a dark but absurd sense of humor.
“Foxtrot” (opening at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas and Angelika Film Center Carmel Mountain) is slow and the tone is ever-shifting but it works a spell on the viewer as it raises questions about the Middle East, cycles of violence, and unwinnable conflicts. On one level it is bleak and full of despair and on another, it pulses with magic realism and a sardonic humor that is critical of the state of affairs in Israel today.