Just go. Go and see The Handmaiden. To describe the film in any detail could temper it for you. This is a film that benefits from knowing as little about it as possible. So stop reading this review, go to the website for your local moving picture venue and find a suitable time to see it.
Still here? Alright, what CAN I tell you? In the vaguest terms possible, Park Chan-Wook’s latest film is an exquisite, sumptuous, erotic portrayal of an intriguing, labyrinthine tale. Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, Park’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith explores (among other things) identity, friendship, love and sexuality, through gorgeous production design and an intricate visual pattern that demonstrates an intensely intelligent use of cinema. Jae-bum Kim and Sang-beom Kim’s edits are carefully spaced to reveal key pieces of information, Chung-Hoon Chung’s cinematography precisely explores Seong-hie Ryu’s beautiful sets, while the performances of the whole cast are note perfect, balancing inner turmoil with outer expression. Park balances multiple tones across the film, including excitement and sorrow, narrative wit and slapstick humour, erotic intrigue and outright horror. Do yourself a favour and make a point of seeing what is likely to be one of this year’s best films. Come on, what are you waiting for?
Imagine if Ben Stiller had encountered hypnotism and brain surgery when he went to Meet The Parents. That is a fair description of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a gripping, thrilling and at times shocking horror film about social attitudes and the power of privilege. Writer-director Peele structures the film carefully, as an opening sequence is conducted almost entirely in a wide angled, single long take, that echoes Halloween and the more recent It Follows. Such composition sets the scene of menace and danger as part of the overall picture if not seen immediately. The viewer is then introduced to likeable couple Chris Washington (David Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), taking a weekend trip to Rose’s parents Dean (Bradley Whitford, whose character echoes his from The Cabin in the Woods) and Missy (Catherine Keener, turning her usual comforting presence to more sinister ends). Chris is concerned about the Armitages’ attitude towards his race, but despite Rose’s assurances a sense of unease rapidly develops as the family sees too clean cut and their African-American servants are clearly strange. As other guests arrive for a party their racial attitudes shift from initially grating to increasingly creepy. Past traumas and emotional vulnerability are exploited as things become ever more sinister, with scenes of direct mental manipulation proving especially unnerving. In its final act the film moves away from psychological scares to more physical ones, becoming increasingly hysterical and ultimately less effective. Although a potentially devastating plot twist is avoided, Get Out contains more than enough atmosphere and dread to leave one feeling shaken and disturbed.
Ghost in the Shell
Rupert Sanders’ remake of Mamoru Oshii’s seminal anime, itself an adaptation of Shirow Madamune’s manga, plays like Blade Runner crossed with The Fifth Element on steroids. Set in a future where cybernetic ‘enhancements’ are commonplace, the eye-scorching Ghost in the Shell focuses on Major (Scarlett Johansson), a special agent of Section 9 that tracks a mysterious cyber-terrorist known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt). Sanders’ film creates a visually arresting vision of the future, with huge buildings sharing the skyline of (presumably) Tokyo with giant holograms advertising the latest technology from the ubiquitous company Hanka. Shots capture the city in the background while the officers of Section 9 perform superhuman feats, the cumulative effect hinting at the uncanny nature of this world, like and unlike our own, while other startling images include Kuze connected to a dense mesh of cables that imply infinite connection. Unfortunately, the film lacks faith in these visuals, often resorting to telling rather than showing with an over-reliance on exposition and laboured storytelling. A more fluid directorial style might have helped, such as that of Luc Besson or the Wachowskis, or indeed the original anime. Further comparisons with the earlier film hurt this one also, as Johansson’s Major forgoes the cynicism of Atsuko Tanaka’s Motoko Kusanagi and the film as a whole lacks the nihilism of Madamune’s version. In the earlier film, cybernetic enhancement is a given and the questions posed look ahead to explore new understandings of life consciousness. This screenplay, by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger, looks backward as Major attempts to piece together her past. Glitches in Major’s perception hint at this past in cumbersome ways, Sanders’ style often buffering the content rather than delivering a steady data stream of plot, theme, character and world-building. Slo-mo and lingering shots of bodies have their place, but here they emphasise artifice rather than express the fusion of biology and technology. While the film does raise many interesting ideas about memory and identity, especially in relation to the controversial ‘whitewashing‘, the end result is a case of too much shell, not enough ghost.