In a future world where people pay others to “perform” for them, Mr. Oscar (a brilliant Denis Lavant) is tired. As he rides around in his stretch limousine, his faithful driver Celine (Edit Scob) making sure he stays on schedule, he puts on various masks and make-up personas, the better to serve his client’s needs. Over the course of this very long day, he will “play” a grieving father, a CG stand-in for virtual porn, a diabolical criminal, a jaunty accordionist, and perhaps most significantly, a deformed fool who seduces a supermodel (Eva Mendes), taking her to a graveyard for some surreal, pseudo-sexual bonding. All the while, he sighs and struggles, his efforts becoming more and more wearisome, his tasks taking over and draining him of his true personality.
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As he makes his way through the memory bank of recollected movie genres, Quentin Tarantino argues for his place as cinema’s greatest thief. Not that this is a bad thing. Indeed, his legitimate larceny has amped at least two generations of fanboys and girls to revisit past masters in a way no other filmmaker has found. He inspires inquiry, asking for the clueless and clued in to play along with his game of spot the homage. With canvases so broad - crime, WWII, The Shaw Brothers - he’s managed to make his name off the obvious references of those who came before. And yet, like any great chef, he doesn’t merely mimic. He pours over previous recipes, extracting the best bits to turn into his own masterful (and tasty) creations. They may seem similar, but they remain wholly his own.
In 2008, Kathryn Bigelow’s career was at a concerning crossroads. Her last film, 2002’s poorly received K-19: The Widowmaker was considered a major box office bomb, and the heyday of such classics as Near Dark (and for some, Strange Days and Point Break) were decades past. Life is hard enough for a female filmmaker in the male dominated dominion of Tinseltown, let alone for a perceived failure whose best work was a distant memory. Then came The Hurt Locker, and things changed dramatically. Bigelow went from pariah to pioneer, becoming the first woman EVER to win the Oscar for Best Director. Some argued her nomination and victory were part of some calculated mea culpa conspiracy on the part of paternalistic Hollywood. With her stellar follow-up, the amazing Zero Dark Thirty, such silliness should be put to rest once and for all. It’s a brilliant thriller by a more than capable moviemaker, gender be damned.
There is nothing new about the trick or “twist” ending. Long before Pam Ewing ‘dreamt’ an entire season of Dallas or the Ape Planet turned out to be Earth all along, filmmakers and novelists were pulling the rug out from under unsuspecting readers/viewers with their last act switheroos. In general, people like a good plot ploy. Being able to see events in a totally differently light can bring both clarity and a sense of calm. Suddenly, the weird way a character was acting is explained away. Similarly, a side element not easily recognizable quickly comes into focus, arguing for its ability to con you just as easily as the creative wizard working behind the media scrim.
It was intriguing to watch. For those of us who love the genre, we knew it was inevitable. Still, with such a strong showing from the international community, it looked like the Ethan Hawke horror film Sinister was going to be something special. Insidious special. The Cabin in the Woods special. Heck, maybe even [REC] good. As it sat in the high 90s on Rotten Tomatoes, it looked like the often maligned movie category was about to score that rarity - a real critical hit.
Then it started. Slowly, then snowballing. As more and more ‘journalists’ added their voices, as the aggregate system over at Rotten Tomatoes started to show its already flawed stripes, the total score for Sinister dropped. First into the ‘80s, then drastically into the high 60s. By the end of the 12 October weekend (where it placed third at the box office), it had landed at a weak 63%. While that’s good in the overall scheme of the genre, it once again argues for a critical constant. Horror remains one of the most consistently marginalized and maligned categories in the history of the artform. More so than any other.