Sunday, March 23, 2014

Here Comes the Devil (2013)

Jen Chaney's review on decries Adrián García Bogliano's film for failing to pick a subgenre and stick to that subgenre's guidelines. If you ask me, however, this is part of the film's overall strength. It appears to me that Bogliano knows exactly what kind of horror movie he wants to make: one that plays on the myriad subgenres with which we're getting jaded and delivers something that arrests your attention to the very last frame. Sure, I could see someone without a lot of experience with horror movies not liking the film; they won't understand the liberties and effects the filmmaker is blending into the production for one thing. But for those of us who have seen 1,000+ horror movies (I hope one day to be able to have backfilled this site with reviews for all those I've seen), this is a treat.

The only other experience I've had with Bogliano is his entry "B is for Bigfoot" in the ABCs of Death anthology, and, honestly, I wasn't that impressed, especially in light of all the other entries (though that's not to say his was the worst). The segment was fun, but it didn't stand out. Here Comes the Devil, on the other hand, certainly stands out among the wealth of horror movies I've seen. I think that, if a filmmaker wants to get on the map in the horror community, this film is a textbook example of how to do it. To be fair, Chaney does note that the genre blend could have worked for her, but cites Bogliano's direction as being messy with heavy misogynistic overtones, thus ruining the interesting premise. Though I definitely see her point on the misogynistic overtones (I'd love to hear what she has to say about Lars von Trier!), I disagree that direction was lacking or that the film was all over the place. What could be mistaken as a lack of cohesion are the artistic liberties employed to shock the audience into a different direction from where we thought the story was going.

While I'm watching a film and taking notes, I usually jot down various marginalia, including hashtags of possible subgenres. In the first act alone, I had written #kidnapping, #home-invasion, #religious, #psychological, #slasher, #serial-killer, and #supernatural. We even get the Indian-burial-ground subplot that underpins a bulk of Stephen King's oeuvre. As you can see, I finally settled on #supernatural, which shouldn't be surprising based on the name of the movie, but rest assured; all the elements of the other tags I noted are present. In fact, one of the biggest things that worked for me was the terrific depiction of real-life domestic issues (e.g. parents are too busy to be intimate; the husband groans at family plans and just wants silence; and so on). These fissures in the foundation of the nice little nuclear family are then easily probed and brought to the surface as the central conflict begins to intensify.

Indeed, there is a lot going on in the movie, especially regarding sexual themes. For example, at the close of the first act, wherein our initial conflict is firmly established, we get the suggestion, à la Antichrist, that the parents allowed their lust to overpower their parental responsibility, resulting in the catastrophe. When you think about it, this is just a fresh repackaging of one of the most well-known themes in all of horror, for it is the very action that created Jason Vorhees: lascivious camp leaders who were too busy letting their hormones blind them allowed young, innocent Jason to drown in Camp Crystal Lake. But, then we have the first change up. As the grieving parents are about to leave the hotel the next morning, the police pull up with the children safely in the car. OK, so this isn't going to be a kidnapping plot, I thought, and sat up a little more attentively on the couch.

From there the story becomes about what happened that night the kids were "stuck in a dark cave," as they stated it. Having just read a few Jack Ketchum short stories, including one that strongly alludes to his novel Off Season ("The Work," it's called), I really had it in my mind that they had actually been up there a lot longer and ended up taken in by a group of cannibals (I thought the opening montage would tie into this). But that just kept breaking down. Then Bogliano made expert use of a handful of red herrings that would've made the editors at Ellery Queen nod approvingly, including the kids themselves, to send our imaginations spiraling. On-screen, the parents settle on being convinced of the culprit, which leads to a rather unexpectedly gory scene. It should be noted that the minimal pulsing score (I love the recurring death knell) and sweeping-zooming camera shots, which become most apparent just before this first real shock of the film, beautifully complement the film's tone and pace.

Speaking of pacing, the slow unraveling of the children's strange behaviour is executed in a calculated manner that allows our minds to continue to wonder what exactly happened and where this film is taking us. And, finally, in the final act, when all the angles I could muster from what I was shown were debunked, the film really doles out the bizarre! We begin with a levitation that completely caught me off guard; then we get the most intense breakfast I think I've ever witnessed on film; then we get a scene that elicited the biggest jolt I've had in a long time (I said this about another movie recently, but this one takes the cake). The scene (that begins) in the bathroom and in the bedroom will please any self-respecting horror fan! In that moment I remember wondering how they would bring such a great experience with so many twists and turns and so many great shocks to a proper close. Most films have 1 of 3 strong acts: they start strong and fall apart; they stay bland and meandering and then end strong; etc. But I don't think Bogliano could have wrapped up the film in a smarter manner. Two shots and the cycle continues. And we end with the title screen and pounding, raucous metal, à la Funny Games.

And there you have it. If anything is messy and all over the place, it's this "review," not Adrián García Bogliano's Here Comes the Devil. I can already say that this is a strong contender for the top 3 picks for DVD releases this year. Sure, it's not for everyone (is any movie?). I could see it being fairly controversial depending on how seriously you take some of its themes. But, if you want to be entertained; if you're a true horror fan; if you're tired of the same old, same old--this is a movie for you. Block off some time when you can watch this alone, late at night, and without distraction. I'm looking forward to seeing what Bogliano did with his direction of Late Phases, which just had its run at SXSW.

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