‘Manuscripts Don’t Burn’ review – But authors do.

There is a moment of suspended animation in Manuscripts Don’t Burn where a character nonchalantly places a laundry clip over the nose of another, watching the latter suffocate to death slowly from having both his mouth and nose sealed. It is a chilling moment, and one that strikes the viewer exactly where the director intends the film to strike. Mohammed Rasoulof’s 2014 film is a fictional retelling of the infamous Chain Murders of Iran, a series of murders and disappearances of Iranian intellectuals who had been critical of the then government. Starting with the lead character – the man commissioned by the government to carry out the extortion – the film makes choice after interesting choice in its narration of the hunt for a banned manuscript. Taking its time with each moment and lingering on the seemingly mundane bits of daily life, the silence of the film and its observers is deafening.
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‘Get Out’ review – The most important horror film of our time

The reason many classic horror films fail to chill audiences today is the fact that the scariest ones of the time are rooted in the mindset of the people of that time. If you look back at the history of the horror genre, both in films as well as literature, patterns start to develop. Now while this is clearly because of the trend that got people in the cinema seats, there is a deeper reason for the popularity of each variant of fear. The popular fear of alien invaders in the films of the ‘50s can be traced to the fear of the American society which was constantly under the threat of foreign invasion, threatening their all-American values. The ‘60s and ‘70s saw an American population glued to their televisions which shocked them with stories of psychopaths and mass murderers such as Ted Bundy, and Hollywood responded with movies such as Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, realizing and heightening their fears. Get Out is the debut film by Jordan Peele, of Key & Peele fame, who subverts his usually comedic type for a far darker story that is too realistic for the times we live in.
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The Best of 2016 in Film – Dreamers, witches and nice guys.

It seems that the events of 2016 have birthed a new generation of cynics, and at the turn of the new year, all one can hear around are people crying over the horrible year that has passed. However, being one who prefers to count gifts over curses, I consider ourselves blessed to have received a stellar list of films, taking various different genres to stranger waters, and realizing the full potential of some others. Now while the movies that big franchises and studios have churned out were more in the form of financial investments than works of art, 2016 has witnessed masterpieces from global filmmakers and the independent categories. The following is the list of films that I think made the most of their run-time this year, and deserve to be seen by one and all. (This year, I’ve added suggestions of old movies similar in some way to each film on this list, so the doubtful ones can decide what to watch.)
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‘The Conjuring 2’ review – Love in the time of demonic possession

Ask any group of people about the Amityville Horror House or the UFO sighting at Roswell, and you will find that these stories of the allegedly supernatural usually revolve around the question of belief; some accepting them for reasons beyond comprehension, and others finding rational reasons to debunk the accounts. Inviting global attention at the hands of the media in the age of growing rationalism that was the late 20th century, most of such recorded accounts were treated to contradicting interpretations from the public, dismissing many cases as cries for attention. It is one such famous story of belief and doubt that James Wan adapts in his sequel to the well-received The Conjuring, inspired by real-life investigations conducted by Ed and Lorraine Warren into the accounts of an English family haunted by what came to be known as the Enfield Poltergeist. Chronicling the tale of demonic possession of a child and its bearings on the press, the society and the Warrens themselves, this sequel carries a story we’ve heard countless times with previously unknown flair and dedication, making it a horrifying experience despite the predictability of its plot.
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‘The Witch’ review – A dark fairytale of temptation and original sin

In the Old Testament, the Book of Job tells the story of a righteous man whose family is put to the ultimate test of faith by the devil, by infliction of the harshest disasters that make him search for answers. Eventually, his faith survives the test and his family is led to salvation by God, who remains strikingly silent in this dark tale of a family that calls back to Job’s. While reviewing last year’s excellent Goodnight Mommy, I mentioned how twins hold a significant place in horror conventions, but there is a far more marked motif that births some of the genre’s most haunting work: religion. Combining these two terrifying elements, and going a step further than most films before it, is Robert Egger’s The Witch, the phenomenal experiment in atmospheric disturbia that bagged him the Best Director award at Sundance this year. Set in the age of Christian Puritanism and suppression of female individualism, this home-run in visual story-telling tracks the horrific undoing of a family that petrifies the viewer by drawing them into the darkest fairytale put to screen in a long time.
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‘We Are Still Here’ review – Ghosts, basements and burial grounds

A couple moves into an old house, hidden away in a New England town that harbours a wicked past, and where the locals are about as welcoming to newcomers as high schoolers in an ‘80s movie. There’s something in the basement cellar, and as the couple and their friends find out over the couple of days, the house has a life of its own. It is the perfect recipe for a haunted house delight, the cosy blend of small-town folklore and a claustrophobic location making for immense potential in chills on familiar grounds, if executed well. Director Ted Geoghegan is here to deliver just that; armed with a cast that fits easily into their archetypal roles and the fresh vision that only a new mind can bring, he seems to understand the qualms most people have with horror films. Taut in tension and smart in execution, We Are Still Here hits all the right notes without assuming to be anything more than what it is: a fun chiller to snuggle up with. Continue reading

‘Anomalisa’ review – A heartbreaking existential masterpiece

Perhaps the only screenwriter working today whose work shines through above and beyond that of the director is Charlie Kaufman. Be it Being John Malkovich (directed by Spike Jonze) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (directed by Michael Gondry), the distinctive feature of all these films is that they were conceived in the bizarrely introspective mind of Kaufman. Anomalisa, his second directorial outing (the first being the phenomenal Synecdoche, New York), while not failing the vision of this auteur, is also strangely the most human story put to screen in a long time. Done entirely in stop-motion animation, it allows us an intimate gateway into the mind of a lonesome narcissist who is perpetually depressed by the boring characters around him. Continue reading

‘The Lobster’ review – The most inventive film in years

In Season 2 of Friends, I remember Phoebe making an analogy of lobsters to describe the relationship between Ross and Rachel, considering how the crustaceans mate for life. Whether that inspired Yorgos Lanthimos (an admitted fan) to choose the title for his debut film in the English language, I do not know, but there would be no better animal to describe the essence of The Lobster’s satire. Set in a future where mating has transcended love to become a legal and social necessity, Lanthimos’ latest is the most inventive take on modern society centered on courtship. A creative masterstroke carrying itself with deadpan hilarity, The Lobster isn’t for the faint-hearted or conventional moviegoer. Balancing off-kilter humour and dystopian horror in a masterful blend, this is a film the likes of which has never graced the screen before, and perhaps never will again. Continue reading

‘The Hateful Eight’ review – Yep, Tarantino’s done it again.

Lock up a bunch of wordy characters in close quarters with a mystery to be solved, and you have a pressure cooker in your hands already. Add the sharp tongue and morbid wit of the kind that only Tarantino can write, and you’ve got something truly special, something to bite your nails off for. The Hateful Eight belongs to that unique Tarantino brand that is a dark comedy, a period piece and a spaghetti western at the same time, all working together to create a symphony of atmosphere and character. Intentionally harking back to a time when overtures, intermissions and stage-like theatrics dominated the screen, the film is Tarantino’s love letter to Sergio Leone and John Carpenter, with a blood-soaked twist. Breathtaking visuals and delightfully ‘hateful’ characters filling every moment of its long runtime, this is one that ranks right up there with the artist’s best work. Continue reading

‘Wild Tales’ review – A devious anthology of human behaviour

Running a simple Google search on director Damian Szifron shows him credited with Wild Tales, ‘the most successful film in the history of Argentina’. Now, running a simple physical search of people who have actually seen and talking about the movie tells me how unfortunate the Argentine cinematic landscape is in terms of reach. This is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who has given into their humanness at some point, anyone who relishes subtly dark humour, anyone who loves being in the clutches of cinematic tension so gripping that you cannot turn away. It is an anthology of six tales about humanness, and small actions escalating to gargantuan proportions, each displaying a slightly different emotion. Continue reading