Tag Archives: Mike Figgis

Intruder Alert: Nate’s Top Ten Home Invasion Thrillers

Lock the doors, bolt the windows and load that shotgun, because someone’s out there and they want in. There’s something primal and terrifying about a good home invasion thriller, a certain violation felt in the act of unwanted visitors breaching the sacred perimeter of one’s homestead. Be it burglars, psychopaths, serial killers or Jehovah’s Witnesses, no one likes the sanctity of their dwelling encroached upon and the premise alone has made for some really fun, often scary and always exciting films, my top ten of which are as follows:

10. Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

These days there’s a new Nicolas Cage flick for every day of the week, and you have to tread carefully through the proverbial minefield of shit nuggets. This is a sleek, solid thriller in the tradition of 90’s Hollywood programmers and provides serviceable excitement. Cage and Nicole Kidman are an upper class couple whose lavish mansion is invaded by a trio of nasty, violent criminals played by Dash Mihok (always awesome), Cam Gigandet (I know he sucks so bad but he’s the only weak link here) and Ben Mendelsohn who rocks the house as always. Who are these guys? What do they want? The fun is in finding out and watching Cage and his family evade these dangerous loonies while trying to stay alive.

9. Joseph Ruben’s Penthouse North

Another 90’s genre throwback, this one sees blind artist Michelle Monaghan facing off against psychopathic jewel thief Michael Keaton, who hid a diamond in her spacious Manhattan loft apartment years ago and wants it back. Monaghan is always terrific and overlooked as an actress, whenever she scores a lead role I’m first in line for tickets. Keaton tends to nail the diabolical villain part because his upfront affability is so disarming that one feels true shock when he abruptly shifts to volatile nastiness. This was tied with Mike Flanagan’s Hush for a spot on the list and while that one is terrific too, I felt that due to the extreme obscurity and overlooked status of Penthouse North that it needed some love.

8. Michael Dunstan’s The Collector

A very unique horror film in which an ex con decides to rob the country estate of his wealthy employer, with a small crew. But someone else has also targeted the house on the same night, basically the last dude you want to be stuck alone with in a closed off environment. It’s a stylish, spooky mashup of Saw, Home Alone and Mouse Trap with a dark palette, some spectacularly gory sequences and a villain you won’t soon forget.

7. James DeMonaco’s The Purge

While the overall concept of the purge is better explored and elaborated on more in the sequels, this first one still works as a horror thriller and dishes out some great suspense, not to mention believable performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. It’s also fun watching Hawke’s reportedly foolproof home security system get slowly breached by the preppy psycho brats that have decided to target them.

6. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

This whacked out funhouse of a flick starts with one home invasion that’s a brash, routine burglary and evolves into another that is subtle, psychological and terrifying. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe are the couple who receives help from Ray Liotta’s friendly cop following the burglary, but then he gets a bit *too* friendly. Taking a keen, perverse interest in Stowe, he latches himself onto their lives and eventually becomes violent and unstable in this harrowing tale of one officer of the law who forgot about protecting and serving.

5. Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

It’s kind of an unconventional choice for a home invasion flick, but the vibe is technically there and I’ve always really liked it and found it to be unfairly bashed. Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone move their kids (Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson) to a creaky old mansion in the countryside for some rest and readjusting. Scary local redneck Stephen Dorff grew up there though, and he isn’t quite ready to move on, let alone watch another family set up camp and start renovating. So begins a relentless series of stalker moves, creep out moments and serious violations of privacy that start to turn violent. It’s essentially a pretty predictable Hollywood thriller but the spooky rural atmosphere is something I’ve always liked and you get a cool Christopher Plummer cameo too.

4. Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours

One of Cimino’s less celebrated films is a remake of an oldie with Humphrey Bogart about three murderous burglars who take a suburban family hostage. Here the lead criminal is Mickey Rourke, the family patriarch Anthony Hopkins and the tone is very broad and melodramatic, but still a lot of fun. Any middle of the road film will get points for having a top notch cast and the players here are all terrific including Elias Koteas, David Morse, Lindsay Crouse, Dean Norris, Shawnee Smith, James Rebhorn, Mimi Rogers and Kelly Lynch.

3, Brian Bertino’s The Strangers

This sensational horror/shocker taps into everyone’s primal fear of being stalked by killers in their own home, and leaves a brutally nihilistic lasting impression. With an auburn, earthy visual tone, nods to 70’s horror films of the same style and a believable central performance from Liv Tyler, this one hits all the right notes and cultivates a terrifically hopeless sense of dread.

2. Florent Siri’s Hostage

This isn’t your garden variety Bruce Willis action picture. Buried cleverly in and around the tale of a hostage negotiator (Willis) trying to rescue an innocent family from three dangerous juvenile criminals is something almost noirish, expressionist in nature and akin to a horror movie in places. The house that these guys break into is a specifically designed labyrinth of shadows, walls and security traps that prove hard to navigate for all parties involved and makes an evocative setting while Willis gives one of his best, most haunted performances on record and Ben Foster makes chilling work of the lead antagonist who is a devilish psychopath.

1. David Fincher’s Panic Room

The bar is set here in terms of home invasion thrillers, and pretty damn high too. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart (for the second time on this list!) retreat to the titular stronghold within their NYC home and fight for their lives against three evil professional thieves (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto). The suspense here is just unreal, this should be in textbooks on how to craft an effective, aesthetically pleasing thriller that keeps you on edge the whole time.

Thanks for reading!

-Nate Hill

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Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor is one of those lurid thrillers that got absolutely shit on by critics, but I’ve always enjoyed its steely, mean spirited edge and nasty central antagonist performance from Stephen Dorff. There’s also the atmospheric locales of rural Ontario that add to the vibe, as well as the high pedigree class of actors you wouldn’t normally see in something this knowingly low brow. Dennis Quaid plays Cooper Tillson, a family man forced to move to the sticks for work. He buys up an ancient house in the woods with a lot of history behind it and some psychological baggage that’s not forgotten so easily. Dorff is Dale Massie, previous inhabitant and local roughneck who hates the idea of big city boy Quaid and his clan taking up roost in his former digs, probably because it stirs up past trauma for him and induces the scary, pissed off state he spends most of the film in. Quaid’s wife (Sharon Stone) and kids including a very young Kristen Stewart, start to get routinely creeped out when Dorff shows up more and more, insinuating his way into their collective idyllic country lives, until he gets downright violent and Quaid is forced to unlock the secrets of the manor to protect his family. Christopher Plummer has a barely coherent appearance as Dorff’s bedridden, dementia addled father, a deeply unnerving cameo if I’ve ever seen one. Spunky Juliette Lewis plays the local hoe-bag who openly mocks Quaid & Clan too. Ultimately this is glossy trash and they marketed it with trailers that made it seem like a straight up horror or supernatural thing, when in reality it’s much more of a stalker thriller, which is alright too, if you have a villain as intense as glowering, seething Dorff. It certainly doesn’t warrant the shit storm of bad reviews it’s amassed though, there’s fun to be had if you approach it with a popcorn movie mindset, and with that cast alone at least you get to watch them do their thing. Hey, at least it’s light years better than that fucking Dream House thing with Daniel Craig.

-Nate Hill

Leaving Las Vegas: A Review by Nate Hill

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Upon my first ever viewing (I know) of Mike Figgis’s Leaving Las Vegas last night, I discovered that it’s not the film I thought it was all these years. I had an image of a quirky, star crossed lovers tale with a modicum of sweetness. What I got wasn’t insanely far off the mark, but I have to say I was disarmed and deeply affected by the sense of decaying bitterness which prevails throughout the story and hangs over it like the sour, neon stained moon over a feverish, perpetually nocturnal Vegas. Every character besides the two leads sort of flits dimly in and out of the story, never having any impact further than they need to service the plot with. This leaves Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue eerily alienated and gives the movie a hypnotic flair. Even though these two abide in a bustling setting, it oddly seems at times that they are the only two human beings in existence. That also most likely stems from the film’s willingness to take the time to get to know them, lingering on every glance, murmur and mannerism, be it mundane or essential, to try and get a feel for these two completely broken souls. Cage is Ben, a failing Hollywood screenwriter who is quite literally drowning in alcoholism, plagued by some tragic past of which we never learn about. He is fired and splits for Vegas to hole up in a motel and deliberatly drink himself to death. There he meets Sera (Shue) a hooker with a heart of gold (Shue torches the cliche bravely). They are immediately attracted, and begin a relationship.  She continues to see Johns, after being freed of her sadistic Latvian pimp (Julian Sands, terrifying). He makes her promise to not attempt to stop his drinking. Their romance is born out of the primal lonliness that each human being feels to a certain extent, that instinctual urge to reach out and grab for anything, anyone to put out the pain. Cage is everything in the role: pathetic, charming, sad, manic, desperate and deeply, scarily committed to his lethal quest of inebriation. The scenes of liquor consumption in this film go beyond excess and make Denzel in Flight look like a high schooler. It will make many uncomfortable, but looking away for our own peace of mind takes away from the urgency and dark poetry of Cage’s situation. Booze is a low burn, but it’s still suicide, and an agonizing method for anyone to behold in action: the person has an extended period of time to rethink, reevaluate, and if they don’t, then their resolve is extended and far more disturbing than a split second decision. Cage displays this in harrowing form in a career highlight. Elizabeth Shue is heartbreaking as the girl who loves him but can’t quite say why, a girl who has spent years in loveless copulation, confused and torn upon feeling it for the first time. Her character goes through some truly hellish things here. You will cry for her, fall in love with her alongside Cage and swell with admiration at her steely resilience in the face of some of the ugliest things life has to offer her. Each member of the supporting cast is like a star in the desert sky, a moment of flickering purpouse before fading into the background again to let Cage and Shue continue their dance of the damned. Graham Beckel as a shaken bartender, Xander Berkeley as a cynical cab driver, Valeria Golino as as a Barfly and R. Lee Ermey as a taken aback conventioneer are all perfect. Director Mike Figgis composed the score himself, a moody blues melody that clings to your perception after the film like a dream that won’t let go. Just to make the film more haunting, it’s based on a novel by a severely alcoholic writer who took his own life two weeks after production was underway, furthering the disconcerting vibe to a saturation point. This one is a tough watch, and you’ll be forced to see two human beings at the absolute end of the road, miles past rock bottom with seemingly no hope in sight. And yet, if you are patient and try to empathize, you will see the kind of flickering positivity and briefly life -affirming intimacy and light that humans cling to even in the darkest of times. Cage and Shue beautifully paint a bittersweet portrait of this through their work. It’s overbearing with the better, but that makes the sweet all the more precious and lasting. Just watch something happy after.