Thursday, March 08, 2012

Indie Reviews

The Innkeepers

Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” is another low fi horror experiment… call it hipster horror if you will. But West’s retro sensibilities are firmly intact again (see the wonderful, if marginally better “House of the Devil”). With a sly nod to Kubrick’s “The Shining” through its ominous pans down hotel hallways and lots of embedded humor, “The Innkeepers” will satisfy both fans of 80’s horror and anyone sincerely attracted to actress Sara Paxton- as I am now. Starring Paxton and Pat Healy, they are the lone employees of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a statuesque hotel that is facing its last weekend in existence after over 150 years in business. Paxton and Healy consider themselves amateur paranormal scientists, and the dilapidated, almost empty hotel bears the perfect time to do some electronic digging for spirits, which naturally, yields some terrifying results. West understands character connectivity, which he emphasizes for over half the film, giving us plenty of time to get to know and sympathize with our amateur sleuths before the shit hits the fan. Besides adding to the already impressive resume of writer/director West, “The Innkeepers” is atmospheric and terrific fun.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

In adapting Lionel Shriver‘s novel, director Lynne Ramsay hasn’t strayed far from her avant garde roots, splicing up the novel’s straightforward narrative about a troubled young man and his damaging after effects into a hotbed of distorted camera lens, disorienting audio and ethereal passages of wordless moments. Music, images and sounds- like a water sprinkler- bleed across several scenes giving the affect of an audio-visual museum piece more than a film, but it works. “We Need To Talk About Kevin” may seem needlessly arty, but this experimental drive is also where the film draws its feral power. Starring Tilda Swinton as the emotionally battered mother, the film shakes up its timeline of stressful motherhood, hinting at the monstrous acts of Kevin (Ezra Miller) and her life before and after his fateful decision. Through the musical score of Jonny Greenwood, “We Need To Talk About Kevin” becomes an alienating portrait that gives Swinton another opaque, interior performance. Brutal one moment and then brutally honest the next- such as the reaction of one man at an office party after Swinton rebuffs his advances- the film challenges and confronts us with horrors out in the open… and ones that we’re forced to deal with, regrettably, in our modern society all too often. A remarkable film.


Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” is a blazing, hard edged character study that features a tremendous performance by Woody Harrelson doing his best “Bad Lieutenant” impersonation. With a script by the legendary James Ellroy, “Rampart” takes place in a very specific time and place- 1999 Los Angeles, hot summer in the middle of the LAPD corruption scandal. As police officer Dave Brown, Harrelson is under heavy duress due to his recorded beating of a suspect. “Rampart” tracks Harrelson’s slow decline both on the job and at home with his family, which is even more hectic with two ex wives, two confused daughters and a boatload of one night stands. As his sophomore film, writer/director Moverman has crafted a film that feels at once organic and kinetic. There’s a scene early on, around the dinner table, that feels so perfectly acted as Harrelson bounces around in flirtation with each ex-wife and then a back-and-forth with his teenage daughters, it would be easy to tag the film as improvised. But, with the pedigree of Ellroy and other scenes that give Harrelson long, stately (and filthy) monologues, the script firmly proves a foundation to a narrative that is otherwise rambling, but only in the best sense. Numerous sub plots are introduced, such as Ned Beatty as a retired cop who feeds Harrelson information and Ice Cube as an Internal Affairs officer investigating him. As shabby and aimless as these sub plots may be, the genuine thrill of “Rampart” is its fierce central performance by Harrelson and its obscure, perfectly realized ending that trades in tidy conclusions for mood and introspect. It’s one of the very best films of the year.

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