Spring 2022 – Week 11 in Review

Hey folks, and welcome to Wrong Every Time. How’s everyone doing today? I’m currently attempting to will myself into writing up another article after this one, because goddamnit, that Current Projects list is not going to watch itself. But dubious productivity aside, I’m actually feeling pretty great at the moment, and looking forward to a jog later this afternoon. It’s becoming something of an annual tradition for me to start up one of those “couch to 5k” running plans in early spring, get pretty darn fit by the end of summer, and then squander my gains when it gets too damn cold out. I really should invest in a gym membership or something this winter, but as of now, I’m currently in the peak improvement segment of my fitness arc, which syncs up perfectly to the brief period of tolerable New England weather. Also I just received an extremely nice note from a long-time reader, which is, you know, day made right there. I know it can be intimidating to send messages to creators you like, but there is nothing more rewarding than hearing you made a positive impact in someone’s life. And don’t limit that courage to internet folks – we’re not on this ball for very long, and I’d say the best thing we can do with that time is to let people know they are loved.

Alright, I’m getting all mushy here and you folks don’t need any of that. I’ve sifted through my review sack and emerged with an interesting medley of features, with topics ranging from the apex of genetic engineering to the lawless drama of the old west. Let’s run down some movies!

Our first feature of the week was Gattaca, a dystopian reflection on a future where parents can min-max their children’s genes to guarantee perfect superbabies. This development naturally heralds a new age of discrimination, wherein anyone born the old-fashioned way is denied opportunities due to their inferior genes. In this world, Ethan Hawke stars as Vincent Freeman (a little on the nose, I agree), a natural-born man who dreams of traveling to the stars. Of course, such important jobs are reserved only for perfect genetic specimens – and so, Vincent ends up working together with the genetically perfect Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), who essentially sells his identity to Vincent through an elaborate genetic subterfuge.

The actual plot of Gattaca is largely a straightforward crime thriller, as the death of one of the space program’s directors prompts harsher security measures at Vincent’s workplace. His increasingly tortured methods of evading genetic recognition are fun enough to follow, but I was significantly more impressed by this film’s evocative portrayal of destiny’s cruelty. With your full genetic code perpetually on display, the idea of “rising beyond your limits” seems like a cruel joke; your potential is known since your birth, making that birth itself your life’s sole moment of significance. The film expresses this frustration both narratively and visually; from the moment Vincent reflects on his childhood swimming races with his genetically perfect brother, it’s clear that this film is metaphorically relitigating the journey of the birth canal.

Gattaca succeeds precisely because it understands and embraces its intended scope. There are virtually no scientific innovations presented beyond this new genetic paradigm, because such innovations would clutter the film’s focus and diminish its clarity as a thought experiment. Instead, the film alters precisely one variable of our lives in a way that both echoes and extrapolates on existing trends, then settles into the weeds of its characters’ lives to explore just how these changes have broken them.

Vincent lives a life of perpetual dissatisfaction, his genetic identity offering no indication of the dogged persistence with which he pursues his dreams. Jerome exists in a sort of living death, with a paralyzing accident having left him unable to live up to the destiny he was born to. Both achieve ascension through oblivion, chasing their dreams beyond the reaches of their bodies’ code. Simultaneously cynical and hopeful, Gattaca dares to believe that even if destiny fails us, the self-destructive fire of passion might see us through. As Vincent ultimately admits, he was only able to beat his brother by saving no strength for the journey home.

We then shifted to a much lighter production, checking out Blade II. The first Blade film is resoundingly “okay,” but the franchise was lucky enough to grab Guillermo del Toro for its sequel, and thus Blade II genuinely kicks ass. Toro is one of few directors who can compellingly translate comic book bombast into film theater, and he is here aided by an excellent crew of principal actors (Ron Perlman! Norman Reedus! Donnie Yen!). Wesley Snipes evokes a familiar but well-executed style of cool in this profoundly post-Matrix film, but even more important than his aura are his substantial martial arts chops. Blade II avoids CG combat whenever possible, offering a genuine martial arts buffet to compliment the bluster of old pros like Perlman and Kris Kristofferson. A highly satisfying action spectacle.

Our next feature was a recent Shudder addition, the French horror film Kandisha. Set in a massive pillar of a housing project, the film centers on three girls who are bound by their shared love of spray painting. When one of the three is assaulted by an ex-boyfriend, she calls on the legend of the vengeful spirit Kandisha to punish him. Unfortunately, Kandisha isn’t so much interested in vengeance as in killing every man in our heroines’ general orbit, forcing the three girls to somehow unsummon their new “friend.”

Kandisha is a handsome horror movie by basically any measure. In terms of visual design, the film makes excellent use of its central housing projects in building a coherent and alienating visual vocabulary, a world of vast cement columns and tiny windows dwindling towards the horizon. Between the three girls’ diverse backgrounds and home situations, the film also offers an incidental yet authentically sketched portrait of France’s burgeoning immigrant population, and the youth cultures this new melting pot is producing. Kandisha feels abundantly of a time and place in a way that renders that experience universal, which is not an easy feat in a film that also features a goat-hoofed murder demon.

Because yes, this is also certainly a horror movie. Kandisha does great work with shadow and implication, but it’s also quite willing to get graphic – at one point, a dude has his rib cage and lower half ripped clean apart, right there on screen. So I guess it’s sort of a “come for the horror story, stay for the authentic portrait of youth culture, get suddenly and violently reminded this is a horror story” experience on the whole. Good movie!

We then checked out From Beyond, another Lovecraft adaptation from the producer and director of Re-Animator, once again starring Jeffrey Combs. My experience with Re-Animator gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one: Lovecraft’s gothic horror transformed into gooey movie camp, with a tone verging on Little Shop of Horrors (if you added a whole lot more gore and nudity).

From Beyond isn’t a truly good film, and its insistence on being irrepressibly horny further limits its appeal, but fans of B-horror should consider it a must-watch production. Director Stuart Gordon is very, very lucky to have found Jeffrey Combs – Combs possesses the manic on-screen intensity of someone like Bruce Campbell, and keeps energy high between the film’s bizarre visual setpieces. Centered on a pair of scientists who hope to see beyond the veil by stimulating the pineal gland, From Beyond stirs sexuality and body horror together into a mix offering shades of Videodrome and Hellraiser, with a more central focus on juicy prosthetics and other practical effects. It’s not classy and it’s only tangentially Lovecraftian, but if you’re looking to fill out a B-horror movie night, it’s an inventive and appropriately salacious ride.

Our final film of the week was an interesting ‘80s artifact, the western drama Silverado. Silverado is not a revisionist western in the style of the famous spaghetti westerns, nor is it one of the genre splices you tend to expect from late-twentieth-century takes on the genre; it plays the classic model entirely straight, respectfully embraces all the dramatic tropes of its forebears, and trusts in its excellent cast to carry the momentum.

I had some complex feelings about Silverado, and learning that the director was co-writer of properties like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Arc definitely helped clarify them. In spite of hitting all the dramatic beats you’d expect of a classic western, Silverado moves with a very different sort of momentum, offering the consistent action payoffs of a modern Hollywood blockbuster. This keeps the energy high, but it drains the feature of the pensive, melancholy atmosphere that characterized the classics of John Ford. Westerns need space to breathe and reflect, as well as a sense of the vast emptiness surrounding their drama – Silverado cleans and tightens so much that this sense of space and atmosphere is lost, leaving only a series of quick-witted cowboy faceoffs.

Still, the film is accomplished enough, and it’s also just nice seeing actors like Kevin Kline or Danny Glover fitted into such a traditional model of film production. Scott Glenn undoubtedly steals the show, as he is the film’s one cast member who truly moves and acts with the fatigue and presence of a traditional western star. Folding into his lanky body and staring morosely across the prairie, Glenn fully evokes the aura of James Coburn, and brings a splash of authenticity to a film that otherwise feels a bit more like a model than an original. Certainly not a must-watch film, but a competent enough exercise with an interesting blend of lead figures.