On day two: the quirky Dutch crime drama The Glorious Works of G.F. Zwaen; Darling, the latest psych-horror from the director of Pod; the highly-buzzed Green Room, starring Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Murder Party); and more.
The Glorious Works of G.F. Zwaen (Denmark; Max Porcelijn, 2015)
The G.F. Zwaen of the title is a writer of literary novels struggling after a bitter divorce and less-than-stellar sales of his latest effort. When he bungles into a crime scene featuring three dead bodies (including his late accountant) and a small fortune, he helps himself to some of the cash, gaining the attention of both the police and the criminals.
Glorious Works will undoubtedly earn comparison to the darker entries in the Coen filmography, and rightly so: many of its characters, including the hapless protagonist and a perpetually put-upon money-handler named Leon, could come straight from a less overtly comic reading of Fargo. Peter van de Witte (as Zwaen) and Ton Kas (as Leon) are golden in their roles. Meanwhile, director Porcelijn injects plenty of suspense and keeps the qurik at a manageable level. The end result is a fantastic crime thriller.
Short film: Warm Insides (Andrew Merrill, 2015)
This horror short is a textbook example of how to use the gross-out to trigger loathing and unease in addition to the standard gag reflex, and Casey Semple brings great crazy as the disturbed lead. A must-see.
Darling (U.S.A.; Mickey Keating, 2015)
No, not the Indian horror-comedy. Instead, it’s an intense mindfuck of a psych-horror exercise, most obviously informed by Repulsion, but sporting a range of influences including Ms. .45 and Funny Games. Lauren Ashley Carter (The Woman, Pod) stars as a young woman hired by her Jug Face co-star Sean Young to serve as caretaker at a haunted New York mansion. Before you can say Haunting of Hill House, the manse starts preying on her mental instability, driving her further into madness.
Carter puts in a devestatingly memorable performance, but the real star of the film is Mickey Keating’s stark, stylish direction. The black-and-white photography, frenetic editing, and harrowing sound design will leave you wondering if you’re crazier than Darling. This is my first encounter with Keating, and I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of his work.
Green Room (U.S.A.; Jeremy Saulnier, 2015)
Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier proves himself more than capable of playing in the big leagues with his latest, a tense (and intense) siege-thriller/war movie. A touring, down-its-luck punk band takes a gig at a White Power compound and unwittingly stumbles into a fatal conflict between the Nazis, who can’t let the hapless witnesses escape with their lives.
Green Room bears all the hallmarks of Saulnier’sprevious efforts, the merciless horror-comedy Murder Party and the revenge-tragedy Blue Ruin: crackling dialog, flawless editing, a hypnotic score, strong characterization, unflinching violence. His keen understanding of subcultural dynamics, one of the delights of Murder Party, also shows its influence here. It’s easy to turn neo-Nazi skins into cheap charicatures and easy villains, but Saulnier humanizes them without making them sympathetic.
But what distinguishes Green Room amongst Saulnier’s work is that it’s this first effort with a readily identifiable cast. Patrick Stewart has earned much praise for his role as the gruff leader of the skins, and rightly so; it’s one of the best performances of the year. But the rest of the ensemble also impresses: Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as the leaders of the punk band; Yelchin’s Fright Night co-star Imogen Poots as a penitent member of the movement; and co-producer Macon Blair (star of Blue Ruin and one of the best characters in Murder Party) as one of the top Nazis.
tl;dr: If Green Room doesn’t show up on my year-end top three, I’ll be fucking shocked.