Winter 2021 – Week 11 in Review

6 months ago 79

Hello all, and welcome on back to Wrong Every Time. I had a fairly light week in extracurricular film studies this time, as my free time was mostly just spent hammering out the last act of Control, and also playing even more Slay the Spire. Look, the game has twenty difficulty levels for four different decks, and is specifically designed to tell me I’m awesome for learning to draft Magic cards in middle school, so me and it will likely remain acquainted for quite some time. In the meantime, I did manage to sneak in my second Dario Argento film, as well as an interesting but flawed recent attraction, and yes, even more Bleach. Without further ado, let’s break ‘em down in the Week in Review!

After being utterly dazzled by Suspiria, it took longer than I’d have hoped to return to the works of Dario Argento. The reason for that is as simple as it is ridiculous: the next feature on my Argento list was Deep Red, and one of my housemates has a strict “no dolls” horror movie policy. This, combined with my other housemate’s “no clowns” horror policy, can at times restrict my viewing activities – fortunately, this week Doll Housemate was out and Clown Housemate was in, so I was able to sneak in the distinctly doll-heavy Deep Red.

Unsurprisingly, Deep Red was terrific. The film centers on a man who finds himself the target of a maniacal serial killer, and thus must hunt down the secret of his pursuer’s madness before he is killed as well. Structurally, the film actually reminded me a great deal of Monster’s middle segments, as characters tour across the remnants of European ruins, seeking the key to a monster’s genesis in children’s books and nursery rhymes. Like Suspiria, the film is awash in gorgeous cinematography, making terrific use of its ominous set design, and showing off through perspective sequences that I have to imagine Sam Raimi’s admired a time or two.

I particularly like Argento’s tendency to strand characters within city plazas, pulling back the camera to really hammer in the alienation of a city at night. Suspiria used that style for one of its best sequences, and here, the film’s inspiring incident is conveyed in a very similar way. Also, Goblin’s contributions to the soundtrack are just fantastic – at times, it feels like the film continues a dialogue-free exploration sequence simply to let the band play, and is absolutely correct to do so.

One last thing I’ll say about Deep Red is that it’s also a surprisingly funny film. Suspiria was self-serious from the beginning, but Deep Red is in large part constructed around a romance developing between its lead actors, David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi. The two are genuinely charming together, and Nicolodi in particular is a hilarious, consistently arresting presence on-screen; it’s clear she’s too good for him, but still easy to enjoy their developing chemistry. Apparently, Argento and Nicolodi both met and married during Deep Red’s production; watching this film, you can almost feel the camera’s love for her character. Ultimately, I’m more a fan of Suspiria’s surrealist set design and supernatural menace than Deep Red’s attractions, but that’s largely a personal preference – anyone who’s interested in good thrillers or horror should watch Deep Red.

After that, I checked out The Empty Man, a 2020 horror film whose trailer promised some delightful supernatural horrors. The film does indeed possess some neat scares, but it’s wildly bloated – at over two hours long, it feels like the filmmakers (or comic writers, given this is an adaptation) felt the need to include every single idea their initial premise inspired, regardless of whether those ideas actually elevate the material.

There are parts of at least four or five different films scattered throughout The Empty Man’s running time. The first twenty or so minutes is easily its best sequence, as a group of hikers discover an extremely spooky idol, and end up harassed by a wendigo-like presence on the top of a mountain. Those twenty minutes make for a pretty effective short horror film – unfortunately, we then cut to an entirely different story, which cannot decide if it’s a teen slasher, smoldering mystery-drama, spooky cult movie, or something else entirely. By the time the film settles on its eventual mode, all the spookiness of its initial threat has been sapped by a series of disappointing reveals, with ostensibly clever twists replacing good old-fashioned scares.

Additionally, the film revels in one of my least favorite dramatic conceits – having the leads be driven by a terrible something that happened in the past, which the film treats as a big mystery for us to discover, thus making it nearly impossible to invest in the character’s emotions. This nearly always feels cheap and unsatisfying to me – I do not care that there is fictional informational you are withholding from me, I just want to actually be able to parse the character’s feelings, and thus maybe let those feelings resonate with me. You know, that thing fiction is so good at? This shit drives me crazy.

Anyway, yeah, can’t recommend this one. I think the director actually has a great deal of promise, as there are some good individual scenes and lots of interesting camerawork, but the material here is less scary and less smart than it believes, while taking far too long to get where it’s going. My frequent takeaway from mystery-driven narratives is that the author is using hidden information to make up for a lack of genuine ideas; The Empty Man embodies that failing, making for an appropriately titled film.

And yes, of course, we continued our journey into Bleach. Revisiting the Soul Society arc was a surprisingly rewarding experience, as I was reminded of all the ambitious interlocking pieces of the narrative, as well as my lingering fondness for many of the big battles. The anime never really looked good (outside of the occasionally standout OPs), but the narrative bones were sturdy, and I could garnish the animation with my memories of the outstanding manga fights. It was both a nostalgic and genuinely satisfying experience.

Unfortunately, nearly everything since that arc has been a reminder of why I actually fell off Bleach, in the end. For anime-only fans, I imagine cutting from the intensity of Aizen’s betrayal to interminable, pointless filler arcs was a pretty disappointing turn – fortunately, we’re just skipping past all of that, traversing years of bad content in a single bound. Unfortunately, even when you get to the manga’s own material, Hueco Mundo is just an over-familiar, under-written retread of Soul Society.

The arc lacks any of Soul Society’s complexity with regards to its various factions or political structure – Hueco Mundo is transparently a boss rush universe, with no sense of substance or culture. And even the antagonists are a major disappointment after Soul Society’s distinctive captains, lacking in personality, and frequently just mimicking their original versions (Grimmjow is Renji, Ulquiorra is Byakuya, Szayelaporro is Kurotsuchi, etc). Hueco Mundo can still offer the base thrill of watching old favorites pull off new tricks, but it’s also one of the clearest displays I’ve seen of an author who has one hundred percent run out of ideas.

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