Starring James Caan, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist
Directed by Kasra Farahani
There seemed to be a prevalent theme of intrusion and surveillance in a few of the darker SXSW Film Festival Midnighter and Narrative Feature entires this year; we have already covered two films from the festival that involve interesting and brutal twists on the home invasion subgenre (see my Don’t Breathe and Hush reviews), and there were a few others that utilized technology in ways that ultimately grow dangerous. Kasra Farahani’s directorial debut The Waiting aims to incorporate many of these elements in more toned down ways, and while it certainly plays with dark genre tropes, it is ultimately a character-driven story of tragedy.
The film follows teenagers Ethan (Miller, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and Sean (Gilchrist, It Follows) who, at the insistence of the naively reckless Ethan, decide to run an experiment on their crotchety neighbor Harold Grainey (Caan). They break into his home and rig a number of structurally based scare traps in an effort to fake a progressively invasive haunting, all the while watching his reactions via hidden surveillance cameras. Ethan insists that the goal of the experiment is to document how one can be convinced of the existence of supernatural entities, but as the mysterious Grainey’s behavior begins to grow far more erratic than ever expected, Sean becomes concerned that perhaps they are taking the experiment too far — and ultimately, he is right.
I must reiterate that The Waiting is most definitely not a horror film when all is said and done, but it does borrow tonally from Hitchcock by way of melding drama and suspense (think Rear Window). Farahani crafts a progressively tense story through a mix of found footage and a few stylistic variations on traditional film, and his seamless handling of these mediums is one of the most immediately striking aspects of the film. Moving back and forth between a courtroom setting in the present and the events of the experiment that led to an undisclosed tragedy, the director remains focused on his characters so effectively that you might even forget that so many varying filming techniques are being utilized here. His stylistic fluidity and deft sense of tension and tone here are even more laudable when considering his first time helmer status.
Miller and Gilchrist — who are close friends in real life — do a terrific job of conveying the youthful enthusiasm that fuel Ethan and Sean’s project; foolish, but charming Ethan is admittedly seeking viral fame, while the bookish Sean is elated by the chance to finally be a part of the in-crowd. Though their motivations are simple on the surface, Farahani and screenwriters Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard work well to also capture the underlying complexity of their latent angst and emotionally-fueled reasoning. The script highlights the boys’ very believable Millennial naiveté, though an extended focus on their conversational dialogue and foolhardy rationale in dire times may ultimately frustrate many viewers. I personally really appreciated the authentic approach to these characters in speech and behavior though, as irksome as it can become at times.
Playing in stark opposition to the younger cast members, Caan’s Grainey shines through silence. He is conveyed at different points as mysterious, dangerous, and misunderstood — depending on which lens we are viewing him through, of course. Caan has limited dialogue in the film, but that does not stop him from turning in an impressively nuanced and versatile performance. An actor of longstanding depth, he dually elicits fear and sympathy through a few subtle expressions and gestures; his presence is absolutely booming even in the film’s more restrained moments.
Though The Waiting‘s tragedy may play out in a predictable fashion for some, it is not any less heartbreaking when all is said and done. Without spoiling anything, I will also say that the film’s final frames are quite powerful in the context of the greater conversation the film seeks to spark. Now more than ever, technology and the desire for visibility crucially intermingle with the complex stages of adolescent psychological development of teens in modern society; for all of their irrationality and misguidedness, Sean and Ethan could very easily be your neighbors kids with too much freedom and far too much technology at their disposal. At its most effective, Farahani’s film sheds a light on how plausible a scenario like this actually is these days if the relationship between these contributing factors goes unchecked.
As a genre film — of which is only marginally classifies — The Waiting is not going to thrill many in an outright way. However, it is a film that is extremely smart in its statements about modern emotional disjointedness and how technology can (frighteningly) contribute to this chronic issue. Upheld by some very interesting psychological notions, it is also a remarkably authentic look at emotional development and beliefs. For those who can appreciate a well-made and finely acted drama punctuated by some wonderful suspense sequences, The Waiting is a commendably crafted story that will not disappoint.
Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
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