torture

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Rising Above: The Women in Hounds of Love *Spoilers Below!*

Published May 12, 2017 by rmpixie

Hounds of Love (2016, 1 hr, 48 mins.)

In Hounds of Love, Ben Young’s first feature-length film, a murderous couple in the city of Perth, Australia, stalks teenage girls to fulfil their sexual fantasies. The acts are orchestrated by John (Stephen Curry), a sexual predator who is cold, mean and conniving. His character is riveting because Young gives you just enough to wonder about what happened to this man to make him so diabolical, but the women surrounding him are equally compelling.

The film is set in 1987, when women were still coming off the gains from first wave feminism only to be kicked back by conservatism in the Reagan era. Traditional values were revisited and shunned by women who wanted to blaze trails and be the independent people their sisters before them fought for. I’m not sure if Young took any of this into account as he wrote the film, but with this era as a backdrop, there’s an interesting theme of traditional versus the modern woman running through the story.

Keeping second-wave feminism in mind, there are two distinct representations of women in the film. We have Vicki’s mother Maggie (Susie Porter) who is gaining her independence after leaving her husband, and Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) herself, a young adult pushing the boundaries and also looking for her place in the world without any parental interference. These two characters represent the burgeoning modern woman. Evelyn (Emma Booth), John’s wife and murderous cohort, is the more traditional figure. She does the cooking, cleaning and looks after her man and his conquests, doing her wifely duties in an extreme way.

Cummings as Vicki just before she is abducted.

Maggie is spreading her wings. Newly divorced, she is starting her new life and hopes to maintain her relationship with her daughter. Divorce in the 80’s was no longer taboo, in fact, it was becoming more common at that time due to changes with laws in North America and Australia. As a child of divorce, Vicki is processing her broken family home and experiencing her rebellious teen years. She deals with it in a typical way by defying her mother, seen as the person who destroyed their family because she’s left both Vicki and her father. Vicki attempts to be her own person despite the upheaval, and even has some power over her well-meaning boyfriend as he writes her school assignments for her. Both women are making efforts to create their own identity. Evelyn, on the other hand, finds comfort in her relationship. She is John’s caretaker and literal partner in crime; the nursemaid to their victims and his dutiful wife. There is no defiance here, only the urge to serve and be wanted. The actions of all three have consequences of varying degrees, but Evelyn’s is the most extreme case by living under the façade of a traditional role while she aids and abets the criminal activities of John.

Each woman will affect one another’s lives in the most unsettling of ways. When Vicky rebels against her mother and sneaks out to go to a party, she is lured into captivity by Evelyn and John. She is tough, however, and thinks on her feet, not succumbing completely to the fear of her abduction. As Evelyn cares for her captive, she forces information out of Vicki, and becomes jealous of her when she realized John’s interest in their captive. Evelyn wants to be as defiant and desirable as the teen, and when she fails to stand up to John, wants to break Vicki’s spirit to prove John loves her more.

We find out that Evelyn comes from a history of abuse that John rescued her from, and it’s the only thing she knows. She is angry, isolated and desperate, and needs something to care about since her children from a previous relationship were taken from her, so John gives her a dog. Her dog is a replacement for the lost children and her only tie to maternal feelings. Director Young said he used the dog to create sympathy for Evelyn, and it does indeed do that as it finds a violent end. But what we must remember is that she is part and parcel with John’s evil machinations. Even though she fears him and fears losing him, she knows right from wrong and still decides to participate. It’s this sobering fact that she played a part in the deaths of their victims, and that her washing the bloodied sheets and cleaning up the crime scene is just as heinous as the act itself. She is the woman that will do anything for love.

John (Curry) and Evelyn (Booth) have a moment together before the brutality.

Evelyn and Maggie are complete opposites. Evelyn represents the perversion of domestic subservience. She does as John wants, takes care of the home, and yearns to be a mother where Maggie refuses this role. Maggie moves into her own house and wants to start fresh, but the resentment felt by her husband when their daughter goes missing is a fresh wound that he picks at, blaming her for their child’s disappearance and shaming her for her independence. Maggie shows inner strength in this situation as she refuses his patronizing help, determined to find her daughter; in fact, Maggie ignores the patronizing police officers as well and carries on with the search led by her instincts.

Where Maggie stands up to her husband, John taunts Evelyn about losing her children and she takes it. Her traditional mindset in this setting is a distortion of the abuses women fight against. Top it off with John’s monstrous and manipulative patriarchal power, and you have an extreme microcosm of what traditional norms do to women who reject them. Maggie’s punishment for leaving the nuclear home is her daughter’s rape and torture.  At one point Evelyn tells Vicki she should have listened to her mother and stayed home after Vicki tells her the truth about her dog’s role and that John is just using her. Evelyn also judges Maggie even though she doesn’t know her, sneering at the broken marriage; mocking Maggie’s independence perhaps because Evelyn too has tried to leave but failed on her own. She doesn’t want to focus on the wrongs she has done to the young women they have captured, instead emboldened by falling back into John’s favour, she taunts and blames Vicki for the crimes committed against her.  It’s as if Evelyn and John feel justified in their actions because these independent women didn’t toe the line and stick with traditional roles.

Evelyn and John lord over the girls like a twisted traditional family. They punish those coming up in the new world, dominating girls and putting them in their place. They don’t put them in a shed or a dark, dank basement, instead their victims are placed in a very regular bedroom, held down with chains. It shows their arrogance and how close evil lies in seemingly safe environments. We never get to know John’s backstory or internal process, but it seems that from the relationship he has with other men, namely his drug dealer, he is the low man on the totem pole and his displeasure manifests in obsessive behaviour and manipulating, dominating, or killing women.

*************************Spoiler Alert*******************************************************

There is only so much unrealistic traditional values can affect its environment and only so far it can go with the fantasy that everyone will accept their roles. The same goes for John and Evelyn. The murderous couple’s vision of marital bliss and conservative appearance is skewed by their fervour for sex, blood and torture and they aren’t as perfect as they see themselves. Even though John calls Evelyn his “queen” and he seems to love her in a way, neighbours complaining about their toxic relationship reveals that imperfection. Eventually there has to be a breaking point and Evelyn will reach it because of her insecurities surrounding her desirability. With this crack in the façade, it’s only a matter of time before things start to crumble.

Maggie finds the neighbourhood where Vicki is being held and frantically shouts her name in the street. In this moment, Evelyn relates to Maggie’s loss as a mother and must make a decision. Egged on by Vicki’s goading, she chooses to kill John because he has denied her of her children as well. In this moment, she finally stands up to him, and becomes independent like Maggie and Vicki. Her fate is sealed but she is now free of a domineering male figure; freeing herself, and the other women around her from the torture. She is by no means a heroine, but at the same time becomes a liberator of sorts for Vicki and herself.   Her last act is cold comfort for redemption, but at least closes the circle of evil she has perpetuated.

There is so much to say about male and female relationships, women’s power and accountability in such a brutal way in this film. I have only scratched the surface, but in a nutshell, Hounds of Love is not only a terrifying psychological thriller, but an in depth look at how women who step out of prescribed roles overcome criticism, sexism and brutality with inner strength.

*Read my review of the film on Cinema Axis here.

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Sleepless Nights with Goodnight Mommy

Published October 2, 2015 by rmpixie

goodnightmommy

Goodnight Mommy (2014, 99 mins.)

 

Moody twins, cornfields, and an isolated house in the countryside are all ingredients for instant terror in my eyes.  I found it all in Goodnight Mommy, the 2014 Austrian horror that wowed audiences for its disturbing visuals and spiralling story.

Twins Elias and Lukas have to reconnect with their mother after she returns home from extensive surgery.  Her face is obscured by bandages and swollen features, and they are uncertain how to approach her as she seems distant and cold; forgetting sentimental details that make them suspicious.  The boys question her identity, and what should have been an idyllic summer for them turns into a cat and mouse game of shifting realities and sanity as they set out with lethal determination to get their answer.

What this film gives you is precision in its beauty and visual detail.  Each scene is so pleasing to the eye, so well-aligned that you drink in the settings before focusing on the action.  The lush, almost Middle Earth feel to the surrounding forest gives the film an enchanted, fairy tale look, contrasted with the family’s modern and sleek Ikea-on-steroids home that serves as a prison of sorts.  There is a ton of symbolic imagery from tunnels to blurred photographs and crucifixes; and obvious themes of beauty, decay (especially with the children’s odd choice of pets) and renewal, but they never get fully realized as the story takes fun house ride twists of what is real and what is imagined.  I was also disappointed with a reveal that happens far too early in the film.  One thing I enjoy with a horror film is the guess-work, and the mystery aspect was taken away with this one glaring detail.

There was some redemption with the cringe-worthy torture and body horror which worked well as the dynamics switched between mother and sons.  It came hard and fast without lingering too long on excessive gore. Performance-wise, I kept thinking of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In as I watched.  Like the characters in these films, mother and sons were all uncomfortably and, for a brief moment elusively, left of center, leaving you wondering what their next move would be. The harshness conveyed by Susanne Wuest as the mother and Elias and Lukas Schwarz as her calculating sons provided lots of tension and suspense.

To sum it up, I liked Goodnight Mommy.  A lot.  I just wanted more exploration, especially with the imagery that became a dead-end, and perhaps a touch more back story (for example, an answer to why the boys seem to be home alone when their mother returns from the hospital).  What you will get from directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz is a beautifully filmed and creepy psychological/body horror that is worth a watch even though it lacked some clarity and streamlining.

 

Here is the Goodnight Mommy trailer that the masses were supposedly terrified over.  I would say it is well crafted but misleading…

 

 

Face Off Season 6 Episode 9: Mad Makeup Scientists!

Published March 14, 2014 by rmpixie

As the artist’s numbers dwindle, Graham pondered his luck with winning the special immunity at the last elimination. He didn’t expect it and felt the pressure to create some outstanding work.  George was correct when he stated that the right person got special immunity because I think Graham’s ideas are different and he has so much more to bring us.
The 8 remaining artists headed to the lab where it was transformed into a torture chamber, complete with jars of icky things which they all loved.  For the Spotlight Challenge inspired by the mad scientists of Island of Dr. Moreau, and American Horror Story: Asylum, they had to become their own mad scientists and create human guinea pigs, picking a medical device from a selection that McKenzie provided to inspire their victims.
Graham chose an electro shock device and decided on a reanimated corpse with lights. He wanted to create a clean and cool makeup, and suffered for his art because the lighting device he created actually shocked him a few times!  I really liked this makeup.  I thought the lights were cool and the face really looked like a cadaver.  The judges liked it better up close and felt it told a story.  He was safe this week.
George picked a ribcage opener.  His concept was to create a victim that was opened and stretched with hooks.  He was going at a good pace until his herniated discs flared up, leaving him in a huge amount of pain.  I completely understand this as a back problem was one of the reasons I stopped doing makeup.  It can be painful and debilitating, and I admired him for carrying on.  He pushed through to create a really good effect with some gross looking wounds.  The judges liked the staining on the paint job and they thought was really cool.  Thankfully after all the pain, he was safe.
Chloe picked an antique amputation saw.  She went for a Frankenstein’s monster type victim that came out of a black and white movie.  When Mr. Westmore advised her to make sure her sculpting was more realistic, she really took her time with this sculpt and stayed calm despite the race against time.  Even though she didn’t have time to do an amputation like she had planned for, the judges overlooked it because of the overall beauty of the character.  They thought the black and white concept worked well, and Glenn thought it was a “laudable choice” and unique.  The bold concept and risks that she took set her apart and they thought it was one of her finest makeups. She was in the top looks.
Rashaad chose a trephine, a device that makes circular incisions in skulls. Since he was more of a sci-fi creator, he struggled for a concept and kept drawing a blank. He finally came up with a mad plastic surgeon that made women grotesque instead of beautiful.  This was a great concept and Mr. Westmore advised him to use different flesh tones for a patchwork effect. Sadly, he didn’t take the advice, and his makeup suffered.  The judges thought there wasn’t enough colour variation or defined skin patches, and it didn’t make sense, especially the randomly place jawbone on the model’s chin.  It was, to them, a less than riveting makeup and a not fully realized concept.  He was in the bottom looks.
Tyler used an embalming pump for his conjoined twin creation. He made the two faces twist and wrap around each other.  I really loved this makeup.  It was really creepy and looked like something out of a mad scientist’s lab.  The judges loved the profile of the faces and the paint job. He was safe for another week.
Daran picked a pneumatic bone auger, and went for a 3 faced experiment. He looked forward to this challenge, as he really wanted to do a realistic makeup.  Mr. Westmore told him to be careful about the placement of the faces, and he took that to heart by tweaking his design.  Speaking of designs, Daran felt that Tyler was copying his concept.  While they were both creating twisted, distorted faces, their makeups were sufficiently different. I ‘ve gotta say that as I watch Daran throughout the show, even though he is darn cute, I really don’t care for him.  He is a great artist, but his quiet demeanour can’t hide the fact that is kind of douche-y.  Just sayin’…anyway, his makeup was pretty amazing.  I liked that the placement of the model’s face in respect to the other two faces was seamless.  The judges thought it was “wild” and impressive for the amount of time he had.  They also felt it was alive and not just a concept.  His “ingenious”, “stellar and creepy” design was in the top looks.
Niko got an antique hand drill and went for a mad scientist that steals a baby from a pregnant woman with said hand drill.  He was worried the concept would offend the judges, but he went with it anyway.  Although he still struggled with his time management, he created a creepy, bloody makeup.  I thought it was gross and scary, and I loved character’s face.  The judges liked the paint job, but Ve thought it was in poor taste.  I’m not so sure about that judgement.  What about Tyler’s conjoined twin, or Rashaad’s plastic surgery victim?  There are real cases of people who have disfigurements and would be offended by most horror creatures and themes, in fact, most, if not all, horror is in poor taste, so I don’t think Niko deserved that.  The 2007 French extreme film Inside deals with exactly what Niko created, and it won awards for best horror movie.  Anyway, he was safe for another week.
Corrine got leeches as her device, and went for a “really gross concept” of leeches on uncomfortable parts of the body.  Mr. Westmore told her to keep it gross, but she had trouble with her concept overall, and felt that she didn’t do enough.  She kept going for minimal, but I think she needed to be more versatile as a whole.  I thought it looked lame, and the judges thought the leeches didn’t look right.  She knew she had made poor decisions, and the judges solidified that by calling the character a “Bondage Rambo” that was devoid of visual interest, and changing the model’s jaw line didn’t add anything to the makeup as a whole. They were underwhelmed by this so she was in the bottom looks.
Out of the top looks, even though they thought Chloe had a bold concept and clean application, Daran won this time.  They loved his “outrageously good execution” and the anatomical choices that flowed with the faces. Even though I dislike him, I thought it was a good choice for the winning concept.
Corrine went home.  They felt that her work was uninspired this time and too simple for this stage of the competition.  They know she will do well in the industry, and even though she admitted to struggling with concepts throughout the show, left feeling inspired for the future.

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