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independent

The Forbidden Room (2015)
Written by Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk, & Guy Maddin
Directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson

forbidden room

A bespectacled man hosts an aged and worn instructional film on how to take a bath. After explaining the opening procedures, the camera dives beneath the murky water, and we see a submarine float by. We cut to inside the submarine where the crew is in dire circumstances. They carry onboard an incredibly volatile substance that, if they were to surface, would combust due to air pressure killing them all. They find a portal in one of the dank, humid chambers that should lead them out into the waters, allowing them to abandon ship and swim to the surface. Instead, when they open a door, a lumberjack soaked to the bone tumbles forward. He begins to tell the tale of his quest to save a maiden from a band of cave-dwelling barbarians only to find the maiden is their den mother. In her sleep, the den mother dreams of another life, as a noir nightclub singer…and so on and so on. The Forbidden Room is a Matryoshka doll of short films, one nested within the other, moving up and down the ladder of stories until they become intertwined and lost within each other.

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Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)
Written by Laura Terruso & Michael Showalter
Directed by Michael Showalter

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Doris Miller (Sally Field) has just lost her mother. She’s lived all her sixty-something years on Staten Island with her mom, and now she isn’t quite sure what to do with her life. She does data entry for an apparel company in the city and finds herself becoming infatuated with John (Max Greenfield), the new art director. Doris begins to challenge her own routines and expand her horizons in a film that seeks to play with our expectations of romantic comedies.

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Rupture (2017)
Written by Brian Nelson & Steven Shainberg
Directed by Steven Shainberg

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Renee (Noomi Rapace) is a single mother in Kansas going about her life when a flat tire leads to her abduction by a mysterious cabal of scientists. She’s put through a series of torturous experiments, gets loose and goes climbing through the vents, only to discover she’s a part of the dumbest conspiracy ever, which you can likely guess in the first 20 minutes of the film. My mind is still boggling at how these actors, who are pretty good, could be in a movie like this.

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Buster’s Mal Heart (2017)
Written and Directed by Sarah Adina Smith

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Jonah (Rami Malek) is adrift in the sea in a rickety boat. He’s also been given the nickname Buster and is pillage the mountain home retreats of millionaires in Montana. Yet in another life, he was the concierge at a dead end hotel on the outskirts of those Montana mountains. He had a wife and a young daughter, with plans to save up and buy a piece of land where they could be “free.” Into Jonah’s life comes a strange, nameless drifter (DJ Qualls) who claims to be the Prophet of the Second Inversion and starts talking up Y2K conspiracies theories. Something is happening to Jonah that will lead him down a strange path and result in even the very notion of identity coming into question.

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Prevenge (2017)
Written and Directed by Alice Lowe

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Ruth (Alice Lowe) suffered a terrible tragedy and is now a single pregnant mother to be. Something strange has happened though. She’s begun hearing the squeaky whispered voice of her unborn child. This gestating being compels Ruth to go on a series of murders that seem random at first but slowly reveal a methodology. The reason behind the killings and the tragedy that happens before the film starts to lead to a tragic and disturbing finale.

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The Revisit is a place for me to rewatch films I love but haven’t seen in years or films that didn’t click with me the first time. Through The Revisit, I reevaluate these movies and compare my original thoughts on them to how they feel in this more recent viewing.

Frailty (2000)
Written by Brent Hanley
Directed by Bill Paxton

frailty

It’s a rainy night in Dallas, Texas when FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is called into the office to speak with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey), a strange man who claims to know secrets behind what authorities have dubbed “The God’s Hand Killer.” Mainly, he tells Doyle that his brother, Adam is the killer. The film becomes a series of flashbacks to Fenton and Adam’s childhood wherein their father (Bill Paxton) claims to have been visited by an angel that tells him which people are truly demons in disguise. He brings the two boys along with him as he hunts down and murders these false humans, but Adam grows increasingly fearful of his father’s actions. Their father begins to see Adam as a threat and takes drastic measures.

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Blue Ruin (2014, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

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Blue Ruin opens on the image of a bearded man in a vulnerable state. He’s settled in for a bath when the sound of a door disturbs him. We quickly learn he doesn’t belong in this house and is, in fact, a homeless man. Dwight Evans is living along the East Coast, foraging from dumpsters and sleeping his car. An empathic police officer who knows Dwight lets him know a man convicted of murdering people close to Dwight has been released back home in Virginia. Dwight makes the decision to travel back and get revenge. But, to the film’s enormous credit, this man is not a trained assassin and is not taking into account the disastrous series of events he is about to trigger.

Before Green Room, director Jeremy Saulnier helmed this meditation on the price of retribution. Saulnier did not have many films under his belt, but his technical prowess is already apparent here (and if you have seen Green Room). Light and shadow are used effectively to set the tone, and figures emerge from shadows in a way that adds to their menace. Saulnier shows he has an excellent relationship with editor Julia Bloch (also on Green Room). Together they construct such palpable tension and anxiety through minimalistic cutting techniques. Shots linger for just the right excruciating amount of time and cut to the perfect reaction or follow-up shot. That strength in editing connects to the pacing of the script. The story doesn’t get too heavy too earlier. The dissemination of information to the audience is also heavily controlled. The full details of the crime committed that sent Dwight into a reclusive state isn’t revealed until over halfway into the picture.

The lead performance rests on the shoulders of Macon Blair, a loyal Saulnier collaborator. Blair delivers what audiences might misconstrue as “too subtle” or “non-emotional, ” but there is a density of emotion and history in what he is doing. Dwight is a character who crossed a line of emotional exhaustion years ago. He couldn’t survive in the world if he didn’t pass through the tears and rage. So now Dwight approaches each obstacle with a cold duty. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies anymore, he only feels he has to keep living to carry on an obligation. You might not notice, but he barely speaks for the first 20 minutes of the film, about only one line in that time. So the story is being told in his face, and thankfully Blair has a face, particularly eyes that tell a story.

What hit me hard about Blue Ruin is how relevant its themes are personally and globally. At first, this seems to be a straightforward revenge film, but the revenge comes very early in the movie. I found myself shocked at what the rest of this film would be about. Then both the audience and Dwight realize his first error which compounds into more and more. This compounding of errors leads to Dwight forced into killing more people, and this breaks him down. He seeks out help only to keep himself long enough to try and remedy his errors. When the full revelation of the inciting crime comes to light, we enter a space of moral ambiguity. People Dwight believes are guilty of things may not be the ones who did it. They are not innocent by any means, but the circumstances are significantly more complicated than first revealed.

In a world where we hear the phrase “good guy with a gun” uttered often or people spending hours of their lives attempting to justify an assault on people, they disagree with politically, Blue Ruin, without being didactic, asks us to question this. Someone most definitely harmed Dwight and people he loved, there is no doubt about this. But for every act of violence, he commits he doesn’t honor the memory of the people he lost or bring any peace to himself. Violence compounds violence, as I’ve talked about before in the context of Arya Stark. The film ends with a character who makes a choice not to commit violence. They walk away as others destroy each other. This character’s future, and could end up in the same situation we find Dwight in at the start, but by choosing not to kill they are free of the curse, two families have inflicted on each other for years.