Control is a clunky psychological thriller that gets away with feeling realistic by the skin of its teeth thanks to four terrific actors who are so good that they somewhat cloak the incredibly silly narrative. Built around a high concept psychiatry experiment, Ray Liotta plays a vicious career criminal psychopath who is recruited into a secret government program by hotshot Doctor Willem Dafoe. Dodgy mood altering pharmacology is used to try and augment Liotta’s antisocial, violent behaviour and increase empathy levels, thus making him a productive and well adjusted member of society. It seems to work at first, he gets a steady job and meets a nice girl (Michelle Rodriguez cast wonderfully against type). But demons catch up with al of us, and the drugs start having side effects, which complicate the whole thing. Liotta is combustible in the role and gives it his all, he has few genuine lead roles but whenever they throw him one he always shines. Dafoe is incapable of a false note and makes his character work, while Irish veteran Stephen Rea makes creepy work of Dafoe’s sinister superior doctor. They’re all great, it’s just the story that falls into silly territory, especially with a huge WTF twist right at the end that takes the wind right out of the film’s sails and feels completely unwarranted. Come for the actors, stay awhile for the actors, make of the script what you will.
Neil Jordan’s In Dreams will blow you away as far as the style department goes, if being a little short up in terms of story. It’s your serial killer chiller given a supernatural twist a lá The Cell: Annette Bening plays a relatively innocuous woman who shares a sort of psychic bond with a murderer out there somewhere, his motives and actions related to her in atmospheric dream sequences that use specific imagery and sound to provide vague clues. The danger hits closer to home, however, when her own daughter is kidnapped by this killer. Her dreams are dismissed by her shrink (Stephen Rea) and a detective (Paul Guilfoyle), but when her pilot husband (Aiden Quinn) is also put in the crosshairs, she’s forced to use what scant, surreal information she has to track down the source and stop him. He’s played by Robert Downey Jr. of all people, who is already an odd enough choice before you take into account the mop of dreadlocks he’s adorned in once he does show up. He’s menacing enough in his own Downey way, but I can’t help feel it was a bit of a stunt cast on Jordan’s part. The main draw and enjoyment I got out of it is the hyper stylized, meticulously lit dream sequences that could be lifted right off the screen and put on canvas, they’re simply gorgeous. The story just can’t seem to keep up with the visuals though, it’s a retread we’ve seen many a time without much deviation from the path. Still, the colour palette and stark imagery hold enough power to deem this a winner in that respect.
FearDotCom is a thoroughly lazy, deeply awful hunk of excrement. What makes it so bad is the sheer potential of its concept, squandered on a brain-meltingly generic serial killer story that we’ve all seen hundreds of times. After a rainy prologue (the whole thing seems to take place in a perpetual monsoon) involving a short lived and painfully underused Udo Kier, we’re told that multiple victims have begun to disappear 48 hours after logging on to some freaky website called fear.com. The rest of the film could have gone a bunch of different cool and inspired ways, but nooo… instead it plods along with a Detective (Stephen Dorff) and a sanitation worker (Natasha McElhone should know better than to take a second look at scripts like this) as they hunt the proprietor of the web domain, a nasty yet ultimately boring murderer played by Neil Jordan’s thespian of choice, Stephen Rea, who also should know better than to wander into this mess. Now, all that could be forgiven, seeing as how potential is pissed away every hour in Hollywood, it’s just par for the course. But where the film really, truly shits the bed is it’s DVD art. I remember specifically avoiding the aisle that housed this flick back in the days of blockbuster, because the images on the cover were so uniquely scary. There’s a horrific looking mannequin girl, dead bodies arranged in a way that would give Dali nightmares and just a general uneasy look to the box. Thing is, none of that stuff actually shows up in the film anywhere. It’s either a con job, butchered editing or the industry’s hugest distribution error. For years I was petrified by those images, only to finally get a chance to see the thing, and go: “This?! This is the film that that wickedly memorable horror show of a cover advertised!? Weak…” All we get out of it is a dour, boring, barely conscious bottom of the barrel shocker outing that leaves no lasting impression whatsoever. You’re better off buying the DVD, whipping the disc off your balcony like a frisbee and framing the cover on the living room wall to freak your kids out.
It’s mind-bender time with The I Inside, a supremely trippy little psychological thriller with shades of everything from Stay and Jacob’s Ladder to Memento and The Jacket. It’s not derivitive though, finding it’s own little bubble of confusing plot twists and unreliable reality for our protagonist, played by Ryan Phillipe, to navigate. He plays a man who awakens in a hospital with no memory of the last two years, how he got there or what went wrong. The head doctor (Stephen Rea) informs him he’s come out of a coma, but offers little other information. Soon time blurs out of mind and he awakens yet again, this time two years in the future, once again in the same hospital. Somehow he can travel in a rift between 2000 and 2002, and must find the connection between the two, and how it relates to him. Now, forewarning: This is one goddamn confusing film. I’m usually pretty adept at distilling dense, scattered or otherwise inaccessible story lines, but this is a doozy. I’ve only seen it once and wound up not having a clue how it all ended up, whether it was due to scattershot writing, or the filmmakers deliberatly making it near unfathomable just to put you in his predicament for effect. Either way, it’s a confounding blizzard of time shifts, strange characters, mental blank spots and perceptive trickery that I’ll need at least a few more viewings to get a handle on. Two different women show up at various points in time, played by Piper Perabo and a chilling Sarah Polley, each claiming to be his wife and messing with his head even more. The only thread that links the two time periods besides him is a mysterious heart trauma patient (an excellent Stephen Lang) who recognizes him in the future and gets his own dose of WTF in the process. This is based on a stage play called Point Of Death, and as such has that intimate, one location feel. We’re never allowed to see outside the hospital in either era, adding to Phillipe’s paranoia and unease. I sometimes think about this film, and what it all really meant, and keep reminding myself to slot in time for a revisit. Take a look, and see if you can figure it out the first time around.
Neil Jordan’s film version of Interview With The Vampire is simultaneously one of the most sumptuous and tedious visions of the affliction to ever hit cinema. On the one hand, it’s an absolutely gorgeous, atmospheric and old worlde glance at two damned souls who carry out their macabre destiny with flair and vicious grace. I say tedious as some kind of bitter compliment, because no other film has quite captured the internal torture of eternity or the nocturnal gloom that must prevail over such an existence quite as well as this film has. It barely runs over two hours and we feel like we’ve been planted in front of the screen for years. Such is the dedication of director Jordan, a sneakily versatile gent who augments his stylistic and tonal approach to whatever material he is working with. The film is exciting and raises a pulse, but only on its terms, and for long periods of time we sit through languishing despair that no doubt adds to the mood, but exists to serve the psyches of our two leads, and dares the viewer to suffer alongside them. I have somewhat of a bone to pick with certain producers behind the scenes who no doubt had a forceful hand in the casting of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. You see, author Ann Rice had her heart set on a filmic version starring Rutger Hauer as Lestat, and Lance Henriksen as Louie. Now, Cruise and Pitt are at the utter opposite end of casting types in Hollywood, and while Jordan is never a guy to compromise or chase stars right off that bat, I am still sour when I think of the film we’ll never see, starring two actors infinitely more fascinating and vampiric that Brad and Tom. Nevertheless, I have som much appreciation for the film that I can’t take it too hard, and remain a steadfast fan. Pitt plays Louie, a depressed Louisiana plantation owner with nothing left, especially to lose. He meets roaming vampire Lestat (Cruise), who promptly turns him, and the two embark on a century spanning odyssey of nighttime escapades, thoroughly fraught with homoeroticism. It’s isn’t so much an organized narrative as it is a lengthy look at these two, trapped by their condition and making the bitter best of it. They meet others along the way, including Armand (a slinky Antonio Banderas), Santiago (Jordan regular Stephen Rhea, lively evil incarnate) and Claudia, a child who Louie turns. She’s played by Kirsten Dunst in the best performance of the film. A young girl with the vampire curse thrust upon her at such an age, who mentally matures into a steely, furious woman trapped in the body of a ten year old. Not many actresses could succeed at that, but she is a spitfire little shryke who dominates every scene. All this is being retold by Louie to a 1990’s journalist (Christian Slater) who morphs from bemused disbelief to cold terror, and eventual morbid fascination. It’s a slog to get through, but an ornately beautiful one with some really bloody effects and the always terrific stewardship of Neil Jordan, whose films are never short of mesmerizing, whichever genre they fall into. A dark, dingy horror with lacy elegance at its core.