American Psycho (2000)
Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, a 1980s investment banker who is secretly a serial killer. Bale himself delivers some brilliant acting in this film: he’s very believable as a sociopath who has to fake whatever emotion is appropriate for the situation. He says towards the beginning of the film that “there is no real Patrick Bateman” and you can see how true that is: he goes through a variety of personas and you can always see how put-on it is. The ‘daytime’ world that Bateman lives in – a world of comparing business cards and meeting people for lunch at expensive restaurants practically every day – not only contrasts well with what he gets up to behind closed doors, but seems pretty alien to most of us on its own. Then there are Bateman’s killings, which escalate through the film and leave you wondering just how far he can go. Often, the most chilling elements are what you don’t see – quite a lot is left to the imagination through the editing, but usually you can well imagine the grisly details. I was a bit dissatisfied by the fact that there is no real resolution by the end, but I did like the eventual ambiguity as to how many of Bateman’s actions were real or imagined: all that’s certain is that he has a very sick mind. Rating: 4/5.
It’s strange that I don’t normally consider myself a fan of horror, yet I watched two horror films in July. The first is a Hammer Horror film, featuring the late Christopher Lee in the title role. It feels wrong to say so, but I had mixed feelings about Lee as Dracula. He undoubtedly has a great on-screen presence, but his voice felt too brisk and didn’t quite fit the character – though admittedly he doesn’t have many lines. The film takes the approach of giving Dracula limited screen time; he’s an invisible, lurking threat for most of it after the first act. It also cuts out several characters and rearranges the relationships between those that remain – e.g. turning Lucy into Jonathan’s fiancee and Arthur’s sister – which doesn’t work too badly in a film medium. I liked Peter Cushing’s performance as Van Helsing, and also the idea of vampire bites being addictive to the victim, leading to some clear fear and conflict when Dracula comes for them. This one’s a lot bloodier than the 1931 equivalent, but ultimately not as atmospheric – and it also manages to have a rather rushed ending. Still, it does a lot right. Rating: 3.5/5.
The Haunting (1963)
I wanted to see this film after seeing Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic review where he explained – with plenty of venom – why the 1990s remake is such an insult to the original. I can certainly understand why he would want to defend this one; I loved it. It gets off to a great start with its eerie opening sequence, explaining the backstory of the supposedly haunted house, which an investigator sets out to study with a group of volunteers. The house itself is portrayed as a maze; there’s a constant impression of great size, and lots of details in the background, like carved faces and mirrors – yet these are never over-emphasised, they’re just there. The cinematography is also fantastic, with swooping, shaky and off-angle shots which add to how uncomfortable and bizarre everything is.
The main character, Eleanor, frequently has an audible train of thought which can sometimes sound a bit out of place – it sounds like it belongs in a novel, which indeed the film is based on – though at the same time, it’s another eerie element which emphasises how isolated she feels. Eleanor is a great protagonist for this kind of film; she’s quiet, innocent, and gradually becomes lost in her own world as the house consumes her. There aren’t many characters overall, but they’re a diverse group, and they have some excellent dialogue to work with.
The Haunting takes a subtle, quiet and creepy approach to its horror, relying on sound and visuals rather than blood or jump scares (though there is at least one of those). The supernatural presence is mysterious, invisible and unknown – but in the end, much of what happens could just have been imagined by the protagonist; it’s left to you to decide. I was really taken in by this one: I was never bored and never quite sure where it was going. It’s definitely more than just another horror film. Rating: 4.5/5.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
A highly rated film based on a highly rated book, and it didn’t disappoint. I liked just about every element of this film. First, there’s the fact that what happens occurs from the POV of children, and how they gradually piece their world together: their actions and views are simplistic but not stupid, and they play an important role in events themselves rather than just being observers. Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch is of course fantastic. From almost the moment he first appears, you can see the kind of person he is – very reserved, and good without being too idealistic; a very realistic character. There are some great details that add substance to the whole thing, from the children hiding under the porch to rushing on the first day of school. And I like the wisdom involved, like Atticus’s comments about trying to walk around in somebody else’s skin.
It feels like every scene has some kind of significance, but it’s from the prevented lynching outside the jailhouse onwards that the film really ramps it up. The courtroom scenes have incredible acting from everyone involved; even the visuals are good, as it clearly displays the division of people in the community. Atticus’s final speech is very powerful, and I felt very sad by the final moment where the black observers all stand up for him. The climax is just as good, from the tension leading up to the attack, to the music when Boo Radley is revealed for the first time, to the mockingbird theme coming full circle. One slight disappointment was that it left out my favourite lines from the book:
“Atticus, he was real nice.”
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
Absolutely a must-see. Rating: 5/5!