Sunday, October 14, 2007

Watched This Weekend

Who Can Kill a Child? (directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, 1976) is a quite good, if somewhat morally dubious, half-forgotten Spanish thriller that combines elements of The Birds, Children of the Damned and Night of the Living Dead to unsettling effect. At heart the film is a work of exploitation, I suppose, but it's photographed so well, the score is so eerie, and the pacing is so leisurely yet appropriately suspenseful that it could pass for a more "respectable" work. It truly does ask the titular question, and it gives a clear answer: anyone. All of us.

This is made abundantly clear in the opening credits, which alternates the humming and laughter of children with images of war atrocities (the Holocaust, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) in which children were the victims. This goes on for more than five minutes, and it's rather disconcerting and a bit disingenuous, as the same point is made later in the film within its narrative. It seems the filmmakers were trying to add a moral weight to the movie; instead, they nearly turn off the viewer within the first couple moments. Overplaying their hand, as it were.

Two vacationers, a man and his pregnant wife, visit a bucolic island off the coast of Spain but find it inhabited only by children. Lots of them. And you know awful children are. So you know where this is going. And it gets there. And there is one sequence that wouldn't have been out of place in David Cronenberg's early masterpiece The Brood. The scenes of children silently amassing just out of the sight line of some of their victims is lifted right from The Birds, but it works. There's a real sense of foreboding and imminent doom throughout that I found gripping and believable. But you might want to fast-forward through the opening credits, that would be my advice.

Bug, directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, Sorcerer) mercilessly reveals the horror of schizophrenic insanity. The film coalesces into a perfectly rational madness, the apogee of which is reached in two perfectly realized and performed monologues of (quite literally) conflagrant paranoia, conspiracy and enormous, but seemingly possible, leaps of logic. These monologues reveal the lengths to which not only “crazy” people will go to justify their irrationalities, but sane people as well who are simply better equipped to compartmentalize their conflicting beliefs. Who sounds as rational as the perfectly insane, armed with a quick wit and a vast store of knowledge, plus a bubbling cauldron of misfiring synapses and nerve endings fried from flesh stripped to bleeding?

Ashley Judd, known mostly for nondescript thrillers with titles like Double Analysis or Secret Jeopardy, gives an amazing performance as Aggie, a broken-down woman with a taste for the lowlife. Bereft of child and spirit she is poised and ready to drink the Kool-Aid that Peter (Michael Shannon), a damaged young war veteran, offers in the form of a supposed insect intelligence he suspects lurking in the motel room they come to share...

I thought Bug was terrific, with truly cringe-inducing scenes of bloodshed and tooth-cracking dentistry with convincing actors fully inhabiting their roles in the limited setting. Friedkin directs with a sure and smooth hand, letting Judd, Shannon and even Harry Connick, Jr., do the heavy lifting. Claustrophobic in the best (?) sense of the word, Bug tightens the screws until the very end. Somehow, though, the movie disappointed lots of critics, as it got a "Rotten" tally from Rottentomatoes.

2 comments:

Angie said...
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Chris said...

I didn't know anything about this movie before I watched it, but I ended up really liking it. I talk about it on my blog:

somethingwickedblog.blogspot.com

Check it out, if you haven't already.

Also I really want to see Who Can Kill A Child. And your words on the film may be that final proding that I need.