Tag Archives: cillian murphy

A last-minute Halloween treat

Here’s a fun fact: I sometimes watch movies, but don’t write about them online. Right now, however, I’d like to correct that discrepancy. As October inches closer and closer to its official end (although really, October is just a state of mind), here are a few horror movies I saw during the past month that have yet to be discussed on Pussy Goes Grrr.

  • The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006): I’m a sucker for giant monster movies, having suckled at the teat of Godzilla, so I was naturally inclined to like this skewed take on the subgenre. It gets a little saccharine and manipulative every once in a while, but that’s more than made up for by the film’s warmth, humor, and political satire.
  • Psychomania (Don Sharp, 1971): I previously knew it only as George Sanders’ last movie. Turns out it’s also totally ridiculous, almost impossible to follow, and batshit insane. Sanders plays a butler; for convoluted reasons, his employer’s son commits suicide and comes back the same… only invulnerable. WTF! It’s amusing, but also really bad.
  • Red Eye (Wes Craven, 2005): This is less of a horror movie and more a standard psychological thriller. Assassin Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) plays mind games with a hotel manager (Rachel McAdams), his seatmate on a Dallas-Miami flight. Much of the screenplay is laughable – especially as the film approaches its finale – but Murphy and McAdams are professionals, and their back-and-forth achieves Hitchcockian levels of suspense.
  • Fright Night (Tom Holland, 1985): Chris Sarandon is a sleazy vampire who moves to the suburbs with his lover?/henchman; William Ragsdale is the teenage neighbor who pledges to defeat him; Roddy McDowall is the over-the-hill TV vampire hunter who helps him. It’s such a good-natured, fun-loving movie that I couldn’t help but love it. Kind of like John Hughes meets Goosebumps, but so much better than both.
  • Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009): Raimi finally returned to Evil Dead territory with fantastic results. Alison Lohman is a banker suffering from a gypsy curse who does a lot of bad, bad things in her effort to get rid of it. Unsurprisingly, it’s comically gory and self-consciously pokes fun at EC Comics-style morality tales; a very worthwhile return to form from an old master.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985): Like entries 2 and 3 on this list, its storyline makes virtually no sense. Still, the underlying teen angst (and repressed but white-hot homoeroticism) make this sequel stand out, as does the Cronenbergian scenes of extreme body horror.
  • Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987): Holy shit, Clive Barker! What the fuck is your problem?! But seriously, this is a very different, very kinky kind of horror movie, maybe like a mix of Little Shop of Horrors, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Salò. Yeah, let’s go with that. It has a slasher plot about an undead sociopath manipulating his brother’s wife, but it’s all wrapped up in a bizarre, ultra-violent mythology about a race of hellbound beings who clean the doors of perception for their human clients. The film also has Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who’s a very convincing final girl.

So there’s a taste of the other stuff I watched this month. Exciting! And with that, I say happy October and happy Halloween.

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The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh

From its first scene, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s a film of extreme highs and extreme lows, often in very close proximity. With surprising swiftness, its characters travel from a wish-fulfillment shopping spree to a run-in with red-eyed zombies, and from a bucolic reverie to the loss of one of their own. Although it’s nearly two hours long, the film never really lets up, but that doesn’t stop it from including a few crucial character-building moments. As in much of Boyle’s work, this is humanity under the worst possible duress. (See: heroin addiction, poverty, being trapped under a boulder.) But it also retains a dark sense of humor and a sincere interest in human relationships as it explores life in England’s, nearly a month after its population is decimated by a zombie epidemic called the Rage virus.

The film follows a hardy group of survivors: Jim (Cillian Murphy), Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). Jim, who spent the titular period of time in a coma, is just as clueless as the audience, but quickly learns about the situation under Selena’s tutelage. After they meet Frank and Hannah, they reluctantly agree to drive toward Manchester, per the request of a mysterious radio message. Along the way, they gradually form a surrogate family – a notion literalized by the bittersweet image of four wild, uninfected horses running around a field. Emotional shorthand like this threatens to become cloying, but the actors are so good that they efface the screenplay’s rough patches. As important as the special effects and postapocalyptic environment may be, this is a film built on strong performances.

Alas, this also makes 28 Days Later an incredibly nerve-wracking film. The main characters are all so identifiable and lovable that it afflicts me with anxiety every time they step outside. Boyle does a good job of making the constant danger very palpable. Even though some zombie purists assert that the infected aren’t zombies, they fucking are, and their speed – scrambling and loping toward whatever or whoever they can destroy – perfectly suits this movie’s purposes. The tunnel scene, for example, is one of the movie’s most effective because of the zombies’ madly feral dash over the heaps of garbage; it drives home the humans’ complete vulnerability. So many have died already, including all the characters’ loved ones, that there’s no doubt about whether this is a life or death situation.

This unyielding suspense and emotional attachment combine to make an intelligent, self-aware rollercoaster of a movie. They also enable the film to makes its most profound statements. This is, after all, a film about surviving the most dire crisis imaginable – the end of civilization as we know it. Each character must determine his or her own priorities. The film doesn’t harp on this, but lets it evolve out of who the characters are: Jim, the newcomer, still holds vestiges of old world values like family and love; Selena, the jaded survivalist, both teaches and learns from him; Frank, selfless and gregarious, wants what’s best for the group (and especially his daughter); Hannah suffers from severe, ongoing PTSD and wants people around her to depend upon. Over the course of the film, they learn the price of having each other; they also come to enjoy simple, sensory pleasures – like, for example, raisins.

For these reasons, I find the film both thrilling and moving. I enjoy it in the same cathartic way that some people enjoy movies based on Nicholas Sparks books. Except 28 Days Later is much, much better. It’s also full of searing, sometimes prescient political commentary, whether about the government’s handling of the epidemic and its aftermath, or about the military compound where the film ends up in its third act. The treatment of Major West and his men, while still very dark, is slightly comedic; as played by Christopher Eccleston, West is a frazzled leader making promises he can’t keep and exercising his authority just to make sure he still has it.

The men, meanwhile, prove that even when civilization collapses, rape culture remains. Although only a few of the men are especially boorish and malicious, their self-aggrandizing machismo turns out to be more contagious than the Rage virus, and their behavior toward their guests is as much of a statement about the military mindset that the film needs to make. I’m consistently impressed by how well the film weaves together its tense, nonstop action and its many well-developed subtexts. It’s one of the most successful, insightful postapocalyptic films made of late and it still has time for one zombie attack set-piece after another.

Some other things I like about 28 Days Later: it’s integration of high-angle, surveillance-style cinematography with conventional shot/reverse shot patterns; its eclectic but never overbearing score; how it draws on Romero’s Living Dead movies and Matheson’s I Am Legend (as well as its film adaptations), but still marks out its own unique territory while saying “We are the real monsters” with more subtlety than Romero ever has; the fruitful invocation of haunted house movies during its climax; and, of course, the beautiful Cillian Murphy.

This film just preys so well on my fears and my loves. I can’t help but be strongly affected by it. As Jim wanders around an empty London, his surroundings reveal the panic that once consumed them; this is an apocalypse that feels believably lived-in. Boyle applies a certain strange realism to his zombie apocalypse, and maybe that’s what makes it so resonant. It’s a distinctly 21st century vision of horror. But it still hangs onto a little hope, billowing in the breeze. I’ll close on an optimistic note with a gratuitous picture of the beautiful Cillian Murphy.


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