Friday, April 24, 2009

Tribeca 2009: Day 2

The House of the Devil

Ti West is absolutely the right person to film Cabin Fever 2, given the technical chops and old-school homage he gives to horror with The House of the Devil. Of course, after sitting through the more-than-technically creepy thrills of this film, he could just as easily shoot another entry in this series. While the baby$itting opportunity that collegiate Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) follows to her potential doom is one of those "too good to be true" offers, West's film manages to follow in the footsteps of '80s horror without getting tangled up in cliche: he refines it as a style that simply becomes "true" to that eerie period of ill-lit rooms, creaky old houses, hammily normal villians (in this case, the dead-on Tom Noonan), and, of course, blood rituals and satanism. (C'mon, the fact that it's a lunar eclipse should be a "dead" giveaway.)

If West's love for the period isn't evident enough from the title of the film (let alone the retro title sequence), the uneventful first thirty minutes (for a horror film, at least: nobody dies) should convince you of his scene-building intentions. From the look of a slice of pizza down to the dialogue between Samantha and her steely best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig), from the music playing on her phone-book-sized Walkman (The Fixx's "One Thing Leads To Another") to the old-school sock-on-a-doorknob situation she faces back in her dorm room, it all seems real. Even Samantha's nervous mantra--"Keep it together"--plays on our expectations of the kittenish victim, slinking up dark stairwells, investigating strange sounds in the sink, and remarking on odd incongruities.

When the blood finally splatters, therefore, it has more of an effect, not less, and West orchestrates each sequence (especially the climax's use of ear-throbbing music) to get the most out of the shot. This also includes a lot of well-placed foreshadowing: a cigarette-lighter hints at the villain, the television's monster-movie broadcast parlays one old-school thriller for another, and people don't just run past bloody corpses--they slip over them. Of course, saying that House of the Devil is perfect for what it is has the downside of reminding audiences that it is exactly what it is, a niche retro horror flick. Of course, if ominous puns and frantic chase are your style, the film speaks for itself: "I promise to make this as painless for you as possible."


Don't be fooled by the fake commercial for Lunar Industries, a helium-mining operation on the moon that provides Earth with 70% of its power. Duncan Jones's clever one-man sci-fi drama, Moon, gets right to the nitty gritty, as a grizzly Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) suits up in a diry spacesuit and does his daily rounds as the lone on-site technican/astronaut for Lunar Industries. He's two weeks away from completing his three-year contract, his sanity maintained by the occasional messages from his wife and daughter, his work on a miniature model of his hometown, and the happy-faces projected by his robotic "friend," Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

Sam's unravelling a little bit, which is why, while recovering from a crash, he doesn't think much of seeing another version of himself. This second Sam, however, can't say the same for him--fresh out of the box, he puts the pieces together rather quickly, and aggressively seeks out the truth behind this three-year contract, suspecting Lunar Industries of some sketchy illegal cloning. Jones's utterly precise camerawork keeps things rolling, emphasizing the emptiness of space and how the odd presence of a second Sam confuses things. Rockwell delivers a great double-performance, too: by remaining low-key, he lends authenticity to his surroundings, and also finds enough of a common ground between the two Sams for there to be interesting friction over their differences, too (as when they play ping-pong).

There's not a lot of action in Moon, and the plot is a bit too simple given the speed at which it slowly unfolds (another twist would've gone a long way). However, by sticking with the ambiance, Jones manages to build a haunting feature film, one that's surprisingly eloquent on the subject of ethics in cloning, and the very idea of existence itself.

No comments: