Enter The Void, Gaspar Noe’s newie, is as visually arresting as it gets, and contrary to the sniffy censures proffered by certain ‘of the old school’ film critics, is both viscerally and cerebrally powerful, a free-floating, adrenaline-intoxicated, neon-blur nightmare that feels like a quantum leap, an evolutionary advance in cinema. Hyperbole alert, perhaps, but it’s that fresh-feeling.
Nathaniel Brown plays Oscar, a US twentysomething relocated to Tokyo, where he scores petty drug deals. He lives with erotic dancer sister Paz De La Huerta: as we join the film, it’s night, Tokyo has come to bristling life and sis heads off to work whilst Brown stays behind and gets high. We are then privy to a spectacular sequence representing said trip. Jacked up nerve endings? Chemicals microscopically rendered? Impressionistic jazzy tomfoolery? It looks great, whatever’s going on. Shortly thereafter we are joined by buddy Alex (Cyril Roy) and we (first person perspective throughout: we see Oscar’s face in precisely one shot – a ruined glance into a bathroom mirror. All the flashbacks are similar, with a spectre-ish rear silhouette projection the only appearance of our vicarious, doomed protagonist) head out into the humming hive of silent-blare illuminated streets and sensory overload that is Tokyo by night.
We clank our descent down spiralling iron stairs and stroll past a prowling police car before arriving at ‘The Void’, a fairly down-at-heel nightspot, where Oscar meets his demise; chased into a toilet, he scrabbles around on a murky, piss-stained floor in a futile attempt at divesting himself of assorted pills and is, within seconds, shot in the chest. We see the blood running through glistening fingers and a foetal, ignominious end on a cubicle floor. At which point we assume the form of the dead man’s ghost as cops pick up the scattered evidence and we roam over Tokyo in a restless, floating whirl, breaching all physical barriers and making restless good on an old promise to ‘never leave’ his sister (this, gamely if questionably, includes entering the body of the night club owner that’s penetrating De La Huerta). The matter of incestuous intimations crops up throughout, as we not only careen through the city, sweeping arcs over vast swathes of inner-city Tokyo in glancing swoops: we head into the past and the motivational occurences that set all the major players on their respective grim paths.
Tokyo itself has hardly been better captured, and is here far from the cozy giant amusement arcade of Lost In Translation: here it’s an unforgiving, deeply inhuman, blankly enticing stage for random devastations to play themselves out on.
Noe’s direction is feverish but controlled, a gliding moth camera magnetised by strobes and pulsing surges of light that divine a fleeting anchor for this incessant, sweeping voyage in and out of deeply troubled lives.
Enter The Void, finally, is a bleakly luminous, moving, invigorating, restless swirl amidst an alien sea of neon and lost souls and a genuine leap into the cinematic future. As such, the response to this in some quarters is all the more mystifying. Gaspar Noe has made something that brilliantly captures the writhing spiritual rage of mortal dread. It’s a trip you have to take.
Monsters is a thoughtful, perhaps too thoughtful film about two people that should get together but probably won’t (and don’t, or do they?) that must, after an unlikely wrangle at a ferry-port, head into the ‘infected‘ zone, which is basically where the titular creatures reside, in order to make a fraught journey home. The special effects (of which there are not many) were contrived resourcefully and imaginatively on a home PC by director Gareth Edwards, and are affective and effective when they (at their best) arrive. It’s a well shot and admirable use of meagre means – if marginally too ponderous to avoid slipping through the cracks between genres a little – an austere Close Encounters.
Joe Dante returns with The Hole, exuding Speilberg deference like a hopeful charm, dusts off the (very) old box of tricks and wields the camera like a little kid, rolling it through the exact same well-worn routine that made Gremlins so successful: swift domestic setting then straight into tight, well-orchestrated mayhem. It’s a retread but also a reminder of a long-absent talent for quick, slick, disposable thrills.
In The Lincoln Lawyer, ‘Lawyer’ Matthew McConnaughey smirks, swaggers and jaw-clenches his way in and out of his client-turned-chauffeur driven ‘Lincoln’, pausing occasionally to engage in ‘cool’ negotiations with gnarled biker crews that flag him down, try and keep is-he-isn’t-he-of-course-he-is playboy Ryan Philippe out of the slammer, impetuously toss a Styrofoam cup over his shoulder and reignite the alcohol-doused fire that was his marriage to Marisa Tomei. He succeeds, and then doesn’t. And then does. It’s another film whose self-affirmation partly rests on its delivery of ‘twists’. All of which are the stuff of ad-infinitum hour-long TV cop-shows. A great assemblage of interesting actors skulk around (or, if you’re William H Macy, look scruffy and knackered) and McConnaughey shows off in front of them, by turns not-that-likeable and then likeable again when he stops acting like a drunk frat-boy trying to impress a cheerleader and becomes moody and imperiled.
“You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men and fall like one of the princes.”
So opens Of Gods And Men and what follows is the interesting fleshing out of an idea: the struggle to reconcile faith in the face of certain death at the hands of amok fundamentalists raging violent terror. We know, as the film progresses, where we’re (be)heading, such are the film’s real-life origins (in 1996, seven French monks from an Algerian monastery were kidnapped and later found murdered and beheaded). So, the focus of the film is the interlude, during which much musing is done by the monks in question upon the possibility of leaving and saving themselves or adhering to their God-given responsibilities and facing a certain and ghastly fate.
We are slowed to the gentle pace of proceedings: we experience day-to-day rituals in this mountain-summit environment of becalmed (though somewhat increasingly fraught) contemplation, as an initially unseen storm rages beyond the walls. All vacillations are kept to spoken deliberations and the dread worn in querulous faces. The film is well measured – the waiting game is agonising and infuriating in equal measure: you are as ambivalent as the abbot habitues. To leave is mortally the only sensible option, and yet to observe the basis of their entire existence demands that they stay and face the impending horror.
Which we are left in no uncertain terms about: we watch as Croatian construction workers are senselessly and deplorably offed by the jihadists. So the film works on two key, parallel levels: as a gut-wrenching thriller and as an account of the deliberations of those faced with a quandary which, in the end, prompts much in the way of theological extrapolations and the realisation that such discussions (the performances are well situated and distinct: the ardently undeterred; the tentative but assiduous; the wavering; the teetering etc) are mere observations, intellectual machinations tethered to earthly life, precluding the inevitable.
Moving further into the film, the Government haughtily intervenes and pushes for the monks to return en masse to France; the army gets wind of their allowing (and therefore, from their point of view, approving terrorism) wounded fundamentalists to receive medical attention, even though to do otherwise would oppose their code. The tide is turning and chaos begins to hold sway as the film slowly ratchets the suspense. You care about these well-drawn characters and their respective plights: this, though, being a film firmly rejecting notions of individualism. (And yet, the film begs you to cheer on the possibility that a rebel monk might flee in the night. I suppose that’s a directly secular response.)
There is a wonderful scene, a heart-stopping interlude, involving the arrival at the temple of the gun-toting aggressors with a demand for medicinal supplies. There is an intense, volatile pervasion which is quickly and surprisingly offset amidst an unlikely accord, of sorts. A warning that feels like a moment of understanding: though it’s very much a red-herring, it’s a majestically poised piece of cinema: one of those moments from which, retrospectively, the whole film pivots and which muddies issues in an intriguing manner. The representation here of the fundamentalists is, you could argue, somewhat sympathetic: they are both capable of human gestures and of instinctive rapprochements. The national forces meant to repel these murderous hordes are portrayed far less flatteringly.
The intention is clear, if a little over-emphasised, and it works, but to what end? There seems little point in initiating the prospect of a reprieve, so we are given the option of potentially supposing: Here are two sets of people that are equally victims of their beliefs – and those we side with are doomed to admirable but devastating defeat. Of Gods And Men is, at the very least, opportunity for debate. It is not didactic but it feels imploring, and strongly hints at no less than the fall of man. It champions a collective cause in the face of annihilation. It is very much a lonely trumpet sounding across a lost battlefield.
As the local increasingly unavoidable body-count mounts (quiet aftermath of an attack on a car by the road, seen POV from a monk’s passing car), the fraternity finally makes a decision that feels like absolutely the right one, in any case, for both human and cinematic reasons. The film is geared towards the ultimate in bittersweet conclusions and a tremendous final reel that caps a powerful and involving theological/philosophical fable.