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Ten Films for Ten Days – Day Six

silence-of-the-lambsOne of the fun things about identifying ten significant films is remembering why they are significant. In this case, the film is interesting because many assumed that I had seen it when I was far too young for such things, because I often talked about eating people (I felt it was more creative than threatening to beat people up). Many kids I knew when I was young did watch horror films in the 1980s, but I was too much of a wuss. It wasn’t until I was nearly in my 20s that I saw such delights as Scream, The Blair Witch Project and this early 90s classic. The viewing experience was remarkable: in May 1999, I watched the film on a small black and white television, with one speaker and not the best reception. Despite these less than ideal viewing conditions, I was utterly transfixed and on several occasions quite petrified. mlčeníWhether The Silence of the Lambs is best defined as a horror or a thriller is a matter of some debate. Narratively, it has the structure of a detective thriller, our plucky heroine investigating one serial killer with some advice from another one. In terms of mood and atmosphere, it works as a horror film through its production design, music and perhaps most of all through its cinematography and editing. Although there are some monstrous scenes such as Dr Hannibal Lecter’s escape from custody and the climactic basement sequence, I struggle to think of any filmed conversation as terrifying as those between Dr Lecter and Clarice Starling. Yet director Jonathan Demme never overplays his hand, shooting with a sparseness that makes the psychic wounds all the more cutting and open. A palpable sense of menace hangs over the entire film, but despite the potential for melodrama (as demonstrated in other entries in the series), the film is a masterclass in restraint and suggestion, which is so much more horrifying than outright gore. The Silence of the Lambs can be described as a detective thriller, but for me I think it will always work first and foremost as a psychological horror, and one of the most significant that I have seen. silence-of-the-lambs-the-1991-005-jodie-foster-on-phone-behind-wall

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Unexpected Item in Reaction Area Three – Captain Phillips

SPOILERS

I recently posed about Rush, which has a director I like and a genre I don’t, which was a delight, and Prisoners, which belongs to a genre I like, has a director I’d never heard of, and was disappointing. In the case of Captain Phillips, I love the genre as, like Prisoners, it is a thriller, and Paul Greengrass is one of my top ten directors. Captain Phillips exceeded my expectations and is one of my top films of 2013, as it is an incredibly gripping, highly intelligent, well balanced and merciless thriller.

Phillips Poster

Captain Phillips works because all its components support each other perfectly. Tom Hanks as the eponymous captain and Barkhad Abdi as his antagonist Abduwali Muse, leader of the Somali hijackers of the Maersk Alabama, deliver powerhouse performances that I hope will be remembered come awards season. Billy Ray’s script combines compelling personal drama with wider themes of globalisation and the poverty gap, while Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography is tight and intimate to the point of claustrophobia. Greengrass orchestrates these myriad elements into a visceral and enthralling experience, drawing the viewer into the action and allowing us to feel the resolve and hunger of the pirates as well as the desperate fear of the Alabama crew. My hands gripped the arms of my seats all the way through and, while I did not feel queasy, I can understand that some might as the sense of being aboard ship was palatable. One critic said that after seeing the film he wanted a stiff drink – I wanted to lie down.

Strong reactions to films are something I like very much, especially uncomfortable reactions. A major reason we go to the cinema is to have safe thrills – while the sense of danger and exhilaration can be created by the right cinematic experience, we are very seldom in actual danger (accounts of heart attacks and vomiting at The Exorcist, Jaws and Alien notwithstanding). The main reason Prisoners disappointed me was that it did not leave me devastated, while Rush was thoroughly exhilarating. Zero Dark Thirty and Gravity are two films that have left me shaken and stirred this year, and Captain Phillips did the same. But what made Captain Phillips unique, not just for this year but in my entire cinema-going experience (which is extensive), is that I cried. No film had ever before prompted me to shed tears, and this got me thinking about what gets our tear ducts working. 

Weep

 

Lists of tear-jerkers tend to include Casablanca, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Bambi, Dumbo, Old Yeller and It’s A Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s Christmas classic did bring me very close to tears when I finally saw it (at Christmas, obviously), and there are others that cause me to well up such as The Lion King, Twelve Monkeys, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby and, despite repeat viewings, Titanic (mock me all you want, I don’t care). All of these made me well up, so I could feel the tears in my eyes, but they would not flow, would not burst out of my eyes and reduce me to a blubbering wreck. In fairness, I hardly ever cry anyway, not because I’m a super tough macho man (though I am, please don’t hurt me!), but for some unknown reason, tears very rarely flow from me. I often wish they would, but when I feel tears in my eyes, I start willing them to flow, which takes me out of the tear-inducing situation and the damn things dry up.

The way my reaction works highlights the mechanics of tear-jerking cinema. Most reactions to cinema are a result of manipulation, because that is what film does. Anyone who does not like to be manipulated should avoid film, because film manipulates all the time, sometimes in such a way as to make you cry – recently I saw tears at Saving Mr Banks. Steven Spielberg’s films are frequent tear-jerkers, including E.T., Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, and Spielberg has openly admitted that his films are manipulative. Schindler’s List, War Horse and, perhaps less obviously, Munich all caused me to well up, because they poured on the agony. Watching a man break under the emotion of what he has failed to do, a horse lie down and die, or a man who has committed terrible acts listen to the innocence embodied in his baby – these are scenes that Spielberg, with help from John Williams, draws out to inflict maximum anguish on the viewer. But once I feel effect of the manipulation, I try to encourage it, which takes me out of the moment and I don’t cry. 

Tom Hanks

This was not the case with Captain Phillips, crucially because the tears I shed were not solely out of anguish, as most weepy scenes are, but also sheer exhaustion. From the point where the hijackers take over the Alabama, there is no let up as they scour the ship, the crew fight back, Phillips is taken hostage, the US navy enters negotiations and eventually stages a rescue. Prior to the rescue, Phillips is brought to the limits of human endurance as the hijackers tie him up and blindfold him, all the while yelling at him and each other. The cacophony, the intensity and the empathy I felt for Phillips were what caused the tears to flow, and they continued in the aftermath when Phillips was brought aboard the USS Bainbridge and treated for shock – I cried out of relief and exhaustion as much as anything else. I have often considered Tom Hanks a rather bland actor, but no longer, as the anguish, rage, frustration, fear and desperation that he displayed in the film’s final act took me into Phillips’ dire position. When he was being treated for shock after being rescued, repeatedly thanking the naval officers, the sense of relief was palatable and deeply moving. I’m not always one to engage with characters, but on this occasion I felt very engaged indeed, possibly needed treatment for shock myself. Like Zero Dark Thirty and Gravity, Captain Phillips left me shaken and stirred, and also moved. I would not have expected a Paul Greengrass film to make me cry, so it was a very rewarding cinema experience. I tend to credit directors for making a film work, and Greengrass is great for delivering visceral, intense work, but hats off to all involved, especially Hanks for performing the most heartbreaking anguish I have seen in a long time.

Captain Phillips trailer launch - video

Unexpected Item in Reaction Area II – Prisoner to Genre

SPOILER ALERT

In my last post, I discussed Rush and that my initial attraction to the film was its director. This was not the case with Prisoners, whose director, Denis Villeneuve, I had never heard of. Prisoners caught my attention with its arresting trailer and stellar cast, but mostly because of its genre. I love a good thriller, especially one that promises kidnapped children, ambiguous suspects, good people gone bad and torture. Moral dilemmas? Unravelling families? Detectives taking it personally? Bring those over here, I can make use of them.

prisoners movie posterI didn’t get what I wanted though, as Prisoners fails to reach the sickening lows of films it seeks to emulate, especially David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007) – the presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as a dogged detective echoes the latter especially. Prisoners is a gruelling watch but, being the sick puppy I am, I wanted to be devastated. Instead, Prisoners was compelling and gripping for the first two hours, then fell apart in the final half hour. The trailer emphasised the central conceit, that two little girls are kidnapped, the police arrest a suspect who is then released due to lack of evidence, and the fathers of the girls, Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard, kidnap the suspect, Paul Dano, and torture him. Reviews confirmed that this is the premise and that the film raised some interesting moral questions.

This did prove to be the case, as Keller Dover’s (Jackman) treatment of Alex Jones (Dano) is a descent into morally dubious territory, which Villeneuve does not flinch from showing us – shots of Alex’s battered face are genuinely horrifying. On the one hand, Prisoners clearly criticises the use of torture as Keller learns nothing from Alex. But the film does not completely condemn Keller, because any parent in his situation would be frantic and Keller clings desperately to this one hope of finding his daughter, committed to the belief that he is factually right even though what he does is morally wrong.

This thematic strand is engaging and disturbing and one that I wanted the film to explore further, but after two hours of intensity and going beyond genre conventions, the final act slides into generic territory. The last half hour shoehorns in an unconvincing psychopath in Holly Jones (Melissa Leo), some confusing red herrings as it appears Keller may have been responsible for the kidnapping (which we know he cannot have been because we have been watching him otherwise occupied) and a new dramatic development as Keller himself is imprisoned. This last twist was particularly frustrating because it provided too easy a resolution. At one point, the mystery appeared to have been solved with a tragic conclusion, as evidence pointed to another suspect. This proved to be a red herring and he was simply a former victim of the real kidnappers. What I really wanted was no resolution, the red herring the closest thing the families get to an answer, an open ending of bleakness and misery that would leave me shaken to the core. The final scene provided a hint of ambiguity, but it was too little, too late.

LokiPrisoners is not bad, indeed technically it is very good. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is sublime (as always), providing the Georgia locations with a chilly yet sumptuous beauty. The production design is excellent, the music effective and the performances are powerful – were it not for stiff competition from the likes of Tom Hanks and Chiwetel Ejiofor I might tip Jackman for a second Oscar nomination (and never say never). Furthermore, Villeneuve’s direction is very effective, handling the material steadily and drawing the viewer into the respective situations of the families and the detective. This makes the problems with Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay all the more frustrating, as so much good work is undermined by the plot developments. The final half hour probably feels more disappointing than it is “bad” because the first two hours were so gripping.

The film’s slide into generic conventions disappointed me, much like Side Effects did earlier in the year. Side Effects abandoned its compelling moral questions about medical ethics and the pharmaceutical industry in favour of lazy conspiracy conventions and dubious sexual politics. Similarly, Prisoners abandons questions over how far is too far and provides a ham-fisted conclusion with mistaken identities, murky pasts and confused religious conspiracies. But whereas I found Prisoners’ return to generic territory disappointing, the friend I saw it with found it comforting. He had a similarly contrasting reaction to Side Effects, uncomfortable with that film’s engagement with moral issues and quite relieved when the film resolved itself as a conspiracy thriller. This demonstrates the pleasure of easy resolution, whatever the moral issues are, everything can be tied up with the narrative conventions of the genre.

The contrast of our reactions is very interesting, as I see the great potential of genre as an arena for exploring big ideas. Science fiction and horror are particularly good for this (see the Thinking Film Collective), but thrillers work too, especially in terms of sociological and societal issues. Se7en and Zodiac, the most obvious influences on Prisoners, are, respectively, a parable about sin and a tale of obsession(s). At its best, Prisoners is an investigation into various forms of imprisonment – the girls, Alex and eventually Keller in physical prisons, while the Dovers and the Birches are trapped in prisons of fear and grief (I would have liked more of the Keller family especially unravelling), and Loki is imprisoned by his obsession with the case. The film’s investigation into imprisonment enriches the generic features, which work fine on their own but in a more gleeful way. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013) is a more gleeful thriller, a neo-noir that revels in its generic tropes and is a lot of fun. Prisoners and Side Effects offer different pleasures through their engagement with moral questions, but depending on your taste, the abandonment of these questions and return to generic frameworks may be a source of relief or frustration.

Keller

Top Ten Directors – Part One

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly (ha ha), you may have noticed a pattern emerging: I am an auteurist. I believe in the theory that you can interpret films, and credit their strengths and weaknesses, to the individual(s) credited as ‘director’. It is a highly problematic critical approach, as it sidelines other creative personal such as producers, writers, actors, editors, cinematographers, set designers, and the army of personnel responsible for putting a film together. Industrially, it doesn’t really work. Critically, it provides a useful reading strategy for linking different films together, and even a cursory examination of the films directed by [insert name here] are likely to reveal similarities.

To this end, I’ll be writing a series of posts that discuss my ten favourite directors, and particular films of theirs. I won’t necessarily describe their ‘best’ films, because neither I, nor anyone, is qualified to say what is or is not better than others (although that doesn’t tend to stop people). I will describe my personal favourites of their oeuvre, and also what I think are the best introductions to their work. By introduction, I mean that if you wanted to show someone, perhaps with very limited exposure to cinema, a film that best expressed the work of this particular filmmaker, what would it be?

Spielberg

 

As a starter, I discuss possibly the most accomplished filmmaker there has ever been – Steven Spielberg. I know, I know, the epitome of mainstream Hollywood, very middle-of-the-road, safe, conservative, blockbuster, lowest-common denominator, etc., etc. I disagree, to an extent. Spielberg has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to deliver emotionally and intellectually engaging cinema across a range of genres, working with different writers and actors, always delivering distinctive films within the parameters of commercial Hollywood production. Spielberg is a master manipulator, which is a loaded and problematic term, but need not be seen as negative. Cinema is intrinsically manipulative, and the most effective filmmakers are those who are most skilled at manipulating their viewers. Spielberg is not only a master at this, but open and unashamed about it. If you don’t want to be manipulated, don’t go to the cinema.

Examples of Spielberg’s powers of manipulation pepper his films. The concealment of the shark in Jaws, represented by underwater POV shots, the scream of victims and the eternally ominous score, create a sense of malevolence. The approach of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, such as the concentric ripples in cups of water and the steady stalking of the velociraptors, create nerve-shredding suspense. The precise balance over how much to show in Schindler’s List, some scenes capturing the sheer brutality of the Nazis with unflinching starkness, while others cut away but leave the viewer in no doubt about what took place. The steady passage through the eponymous Terminal, as our protagonist learns of the political shifts in his country on various TVs, literally chasing the changing channels for more information, draws the viewer into his anguish. And, of course, the carefully developed relationship between a little boy and a walking turd from outer space, which has been drawing tears out of viewers for thirty years and is likely to continue. While young Henry Thomas can certainly claim some credit, Spielberg’s careful timing and focus on the details of this relationship give E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial its glowing heart. The film charms and moves in equal measure, such as when Eliot is taken away from the dying E.T. who reaches out and calls to him with heart-wrenching anguish.

ET

E.T. is the best introduction to Spielberg’s oeuvre. It captures the sentiment and emotion, the pain and heartbreak, the humour and humanity of his cinema. It demonstrates Spielberg’s unparalleled ability to capture exquisite moments on camera and assemble them into compelling and dramatic wholes. But I’m a more bloodthirsty individual so it isn’t my favourite. No, I’m not referring to the bloody hell of warfare in Saving Private Ryan or the incredible cruelty of Schindler’s List, nor even the body-chomping of Jaws or the human puree of War of the Worlds. My favourite Spielberg film is Munich.

Munich

Munich contains a great deal and suggests so much more. As a thriller, it is incredibly gripping and psychologically disturbing, partly because Spielberg can deliver suspenseful sequences as good as anyone, and also because it shows the banality and horror of intimate murder. The Israeli athletes are attacked with discordant, bloody clumsiness. An unarmed, naked woman is shot in cold blood and dies slowly and painfully. An attack on a Palestinian safe house by Mossad forces veers between vaguely comical identification and merciless execution. It is an unflinching look at death and killing that pulls no punches, making it more compelling and shocking, in my view, than Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

Politically, Munich has been described as Zionist and as an overly sympathetic view of Palestinian terrorism, but neither of these accusations are fair. Munich presents an extremely balanced view of the conflict, for some viewers, so balanced that the drama is undermined. Perhaps taking a more definite stance might have delivered something more forceful. But I think the balance is key to the drama, because seeing the perspective of the Mossad agents and, in one bravura exchange between Avner (Eric Bana) and Ali (Omar Metwally), that of Palestinians, adds to the film’s impact. We see how the perspectives affect the people on the frontlines of this never-ending escalation of violence, a point underlined in the film’s final, chilling image of the World Trade Center, emphasising the escalation and wide-ranging impact of this conflict.

The film also works as an investigation into the philosophy of revenge. Is revenge justifiable, in any sense? How far do notions of humanity extend when they conflict with political expediency? The Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen), expresses an extremely problematic position when she says ‘Every civilisation finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values’. These ‘compromises’ also operate on an individual basis, as the Mossad agents question the validity of what they do and the impact of their mission takes its toll. It takes a toll on the viewer as well, as the film’s unflinching focus on the ugliness of the mission, combined with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of triumph (for all the protestations of ‘celebrating’ from Steve [Daniel Craig]), can leave one drained and exhausted by the time the credits roll.

I would describe my experience of seeing Munich for the first time as traumatising, and on repeat viewings, it remains a very powerful and unsettling watch. One of Spielberg’s least appreciated films, but my favourite and one of his best.

Avner

Top Five of 0.5

It’s halfway through 2013 so I thought it time to give a 0.5 Top Five. I don’t see nearly enough movies, but that does have the advantage of mostly seeing what I like (although there are exceptions). 2013 has been a varied year so far, with the normal glut of award-seekers out in January and February, some lingering into March, followed by the initial blockbusters in April, May and June. Lately some dreck has started to filter through my carefully constructed quality net (yes, After Earth, I mean you), but by and large, I’ve had good cinematic times thus far.

From the latest offerings, I’ve compiled a top five, which I now present in ascending order.

5. Trance

Trance

Danny Boyle’s smooth, sexy, psychological neo-noir is a vibrant and visceral thriller that fuses both internal and external conflicts in surprising and exciting ways. For all his cultural success with Oscars and Olympics, Boyle never loses his sense of fun, and Trance is fun on all levels, even when it’s being nasty. Trance may be the year’s slickest film, drawing great parallels between movies and the mind.

 

 

4. Man of Steel

Many have been disappointed with Zack Snyder’s reboot of Superman, but I was very impressed by it. I’ll post a full review in the future, but for now, it is swell, in more ways than one.

MOS

3. The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the PinesDerek Cianfrance’s haunting follow-up to Blue Valentine combines intimate style with epic scale. I was surprised by the three consecutive stories when I would expect a simultaneous, multi-stranded narrative that intercuts between its strands, but I like to be surprised in the cinema if it works, and in this case it does. The almost circular narrative of fathers’ sins being revisited on their sons justifies the epic weight of the film, and the intimate style ensures that the viewer is there every step of the way.

2. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s finest film since Munich, Lincoln is an enthralling political drama. Daniel Day-Lewis’ monumental performance as Abraham Lincoln received the plaudits and awards, but props are due to the whole cast, including Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Harris and especially Tommy Lee Jones as the firebrand Thaddeus Stevens. Probably the year’s most compelling drama of words.

Lincoln

1. Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is one of the tensest cinema experiences I have ever had. Despite knowing the ending, I was gripped from start to finish and, for the final hour, had every muscle clenched (had I stood, the seat would have come with me). Naysayers who accuse it of justifying torture are simply wrong, because the film displays no link between information gathered under torture and the eventual success of the mission. Furthermore, this success is not presented as any sort of triumph, as the film’s conclusion expresses a sombre hollowness. Not only is ZDT a very fine thriller, but it is a grim and sobering depiction of obsession and a bleak world bereft of satisfaction. Nothing cheerful, but so far, film of the year.

ZDT

Frightful Five No. 2. “The Silence of the Lambs” (Jonathan Demme, 1991) [SPOILER WARNING]

 

I rate this as one of my favourite films ever, although it is not quite the scariest.  I have also seen it many times and performed some detailed analysis of the narrative, mise-en-scene, cinematography and editing.  This much analysis could lessen its impact, but The Silence of the Lambs never fails to draw me in, particularly in its most chilling moments.  Both Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) are terrifying creations that could so easily have been crass and lurid, but director Jonathan Demme uses a strikingly sparse approach, both narratively and stylistically.  This sparseness has the effect of focusing the viewer’s attention on the events unfolding, and the focus exacerbates the fear.

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) provides a viewer’s surrogate.  For much of the film we are aligned with her, learning more about Buffalo Bill through her conversations with Dr. Lecter as well as autopsies and other parts of her investigation.  Jodie Foster has been rightly praised as giving one of the great screen performances, and on my first viewing I was struck by the film being very much about her.  Not only do we experience her intellectual investigation, but her compassion, discomfort and eventual fear are all beautifully expressed, both by Foster’s performance and Demme’s direction.  A particular technique used is subjective camera angles, with conversations shot face-on rather than a more typical over-the-shoulder shot.  When Starling and Dr. Lecter converse, the shot/reverse-shot pattern fills the frame with their faces, which is especially unnerving when Dr. Lecter is staring out at you.  Anthony Hopkins uses a simple technique of not blinking, making his stare all the more unsettling.

Hopkins is sometimes criticised for being something of a ham, and in Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001) and (to a lesser extent) Red Dragon (Brett Ratner, 2002) there are grounds for that.  But in The Silence of the Lambs he is perfectly restrained, as part of Demme’s sparse approach.  Impressions often misrepresent the famous “FFFFFF” over the census taker’s liver, hamming it up beyond what Hopkins does.  Like the film as a whole, his performance is tightly wound and precisely focused.

The film’s precision and sparseness make the moments of violence all the more shocking and frightening.  Dr. Lecter’s escape from his elaborate cage is ghastly in its unrestrained savagery, and the baroque display he leaves behind expresses the monstrous intelligence behind such brutality.  But his most frightening moments are psychological, his psyche boring into Starling’s to expose her vulnerabilities and leave her open to a disturbingly invasive interrogation.

Invasion is a key theme throughout The Silence of the Lambs.  Gumb’s attempt to transform into a female is an invasion of his own identity and, more disturbingly, that of his victims.  The women slain and skinned by Gumb not only have their bodies invaded, but their minds as well with the psychological torture inflicted in his well, demonstrated through the suffering of Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith).  Furthermore, Gumb invades their very identity by appropriating them for his own purposes.  In her meetings with Dr. Lecter, Starling’s mind is invaded as he identifies her concerns and forces her to confront her central fear, manifested by the screaming of the lambs.  In conversations, I have heard criticisms of Starling’s central fear, questioning the credibility of such an event being so traumatic.  To me, it does not matter whether I or anyone else would find a particular event upsetting or traumatising – this is Starling’s fear and it matters to her, and I have always found her sufficiently engaging to accept her position.  The point is not what her trauma is, but that she has one, which Dr. Lecter identifies and forces her to confront.  Call it fear therapy.

The invasions work on a wider scale as well, as the genre of The Silence of the Lambs is a source for debate.  Narratively, it is a detective thriller, but a detective story invaded by tropes and elements of horror.  Horror moments abound: the storage unit Starling explores; the Gothic-esque halls of the Smithsonian where she meets the etymologists; the death’s head moth itself.  The climactic sequence in Gumb’s cellar is both an invasion of his space by Starling, and an invasion into her security as she is viewed through Gumb’s night vision goggles.  Starling’s final victory over Gumb breaks the window of his cellar, allowing sunlight to invade this dark recess, but the bright, sunlit places are themselves invaded, as the final scene features Dr. Lecter at an island resort, watching Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald) whom, he indicates, will shortly be on the menu.  Buffalo Bill is disposed of, but there are still monsters out there, stalking.

A key component of horror cinema is cruelty, the continued depiction of people being hurt or persecuted.  Action cinema focuses on the hero fighting back and demonstrating their ability to take control of their situation.  Horror continues the subjugation, cruelly prolonging the plight of its characters.  Even when Starling should have Gumb cornered, the film’s cruelty continues as we watch her plight in POV shots from Gumb’s perspective.  Horror cinema compels us to watch the disturbing and horrific events through long takes, static camera and subjective shots.  If we are to maintain our engagement in the film, we must continue to endure this cruelty.  The end credits of The Silence of the Lambs perpetuates the film’s cruelty by not fading to black as a long take continues over the street, people walking about their daily lives, with Dr. Lecter having disappeared into the distance.  We want him to reappear, perhaps even to be caught, but the film tantalises us with this possibility, perhaps inducing us to check the front door is locked.

I first saw The Silence of the Lambs on a very small TV, with a single speaker, in black and white.  Despite the basic viewing conditions, I was utterly hooked and thoroughly petrified.  I have subsequently seen it many times, on DVD and in colour, on a much larger TV, and it still grips and chills me in equal measure.  Other Thomas Harris adaptations have varied in quality – Hannibal is operatic but rather silly; Red Dragon is taught but fairly ordinary (I am yet to see or read Hannibal Rising [Peter Webber, 2007]).  Before all of these came Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986), which I have a close relationship with.  Manhunter is a fascinating film, operating on a number of stylistic, narratological, psychological and philosophical levels.  It is striking, compelling and at times disturbing, but I would not call it frightening.  The Silence of the Lambs, however, remains both shocking and disturbing in equal measure, and one of the scariest films I have seen.  Not quite the scariest though.