Posts Tagged ‘The Exorcist’

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During the 13th edition of the Dubai Film Festival – in the majestic Jumeirah Mina A’Salam hotel, overlooking the sea and the Burj Al Arab – I sat down with pioneering Emirati director Ali F. Mostafa (director of City of Life, the first Emirati feature to be distributed throughout the MENA region and screen around the world) and producer Rami Yasin (Rattle the Cage, Sea Shadow), to learn about genre filmmaking in the Arabic language and making the United Arab Emirates’ first survivalist horror film The Worthy (released this week in UAE cinemas).

Your three films have all occupied different genres,  multi-narrative drama (City of Life), road movie (From A to B) and now horror with The Worthy. Was this a conscious choice?

Absolutely. It was a complete conscious choice. The choice was to try and tap into as many genres as possible and make the Arab versions of them. And also selfishly, as well, is to try and better myself as a filmmaker. The more genres you tap into, the more versatile you can try and make yourself, I think the more you can grow as a filmmaker.

And what was it about this moment in time that horror seemed like the right choice, rather than a western for example?

Right, well it was one of those things. I was in the middle of editing and I got given the script by Image Nation, so it was something that was handed to me. I was very much interested in doing a horror, although this I could consider more action / thriller, with horror elements, but I was interested very much in doing a horror, mainly because I wasn’t necessarily a horror fan. I appreciated and respected horror films, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch one.

Was there any particular horrors you did like and had as references?

Oh well, obviously we have all seen The Exorcist, but there is also stuff that even – not necessarily horrors – but the way Hitchcock makes his films definitely has that element. But also when I knew I was getting into this film and having Peter Safran & Steven Schneider attached to it, I would have felt silly had I not seen The Conjuring for example, so I went out of my way to watch The Conjuring – it took me actually two and a half days to watch that film – it was really frightening and because of how well made it was. These guys are at the top of their game so we really have to be at the top of our game when making this film.

In terms of bringing this kind of film to the audience here, were there any responsibilities you felt you had, or any things you wanted to achieve?

It’s the first of its kind I guess, in terms of post-apocalyptic kind of film, but in terms of responsibility is to try and do the best film I can make with the means. Knowing that the audience here are very much fans of Hollywood films – I mean those are the films that really do well in the cinemas here – you have to try and make the film with that sensibility. You have to give them that style, in terms of how the film is produced.

So you’re trying to tap into the appetite?

Yes! 100% Without a doubt. But in Arabic. [laughs]

That leads us onto the development of the script. In terms of creating a film of this nature in Arabic, how did you work through that process?

Rami can help with that, Rami is a producer on the film. The script was handed to us… it was an American script initially, so we were playing around with the script a lot and Rami had a huge input.

Rami Yasin – The first question we asked ourselves was: “if this was in our world and our region, what kind of world would we be living in and where would our world be in 10 years time?” We banked on the stuff we know now of what’s going on around the world and our region; as a region that suffers from water shortage, so that was a great thing to have in there to start with and from there we worked backwards with the characters. Who would these characters be? We actually changed a lot of the characters and their backgrounds, built them up from scratch, changed a lot of the relationships between them. For example, one is the father and his son and daughter: what kind of tension would be between the daughter and her father and the son and his father? The other thing that we wanted to do, both of us, is that we wanted to present very strong female characters in this world, because we said in the future our world is not the same, women are on par with men and they are very strong. In fact we heard a lot of comments yesterday [at the world premiere at Dubai Film Festival] from audiences who said: “we loved the fact that the women were so equal to men in this film…” so that’s an achievement that we felt was great.

After this project what’s your next step?

Ali F. Mostafa – Well Rami and I are currently producing Mohammed Saeed Harib’s first feature film, first live-action film. That’s what’s happening currently. And then next, i’m not too sure. I would like to try and do something – even though our films aren’t considered very ‘high budget’ – I would like to try and do something as more of an experiment to me, with a much lower budget, to see if we could still make a good film.

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Hot on the heels of the superb Ganja & Hess re-release from The Eureka Classics Collection comes Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill a Mockingbird) elegantly lensed 1972 chiller The Other. Despite being less well known than the more shocking 70’s Gothic classics The Exorcist and The Omen, this is still a valuable film for it’s creepy and detailed characterisation, idyllic farmhouse location and elaborate long lens cinematography by Robert Surtees (Ben Hur, The Graduate.)

Amid a family whose misfortune is rife, the film centres on Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) a vulnerable boy with a bowl cut and a troublesome identical twin brother Holland (Martin Udvarnoky.) Niles and Holland have lost their father, who died in a barn accident and their mother has since become housebound and catatonic. Niles secretly harbours a ring that belonged to their father and we come to suspect that it possesses strange and dark qualities.

The family’s Russian grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen), is Niles’ closest companion. There is something desperate and intense in her character – well portrayed by Hagen – that is deeply unsettling. The primary tension in the film comes from the various situations Holland goads Niles into, as well as their relationship with snotty cousin Russell, who comes to a sticky end in the barn when he leaps into a pitchfork lodged in the hay bales. It is a film brimming with bottled up anxiety.

There is an overall sense of strangeness throughout The Other, and Mulligan and Surtees follow the action with virtuoso use of pans and zoom lenses. As can be seen in many low budget films of this era (particularly cheap Italian horrors), this is a camera style than can come off as unbearably clunky; however, the skill level witnessed here means the continually complex shooting style seems natural and relentless. Like cinematographer Surtees’ drama The Graduate from five years prior, The Other is a film with an original uneasiness.

Perhaps because of its similarities to superlative drama The Graduate however, The Other does not make for an exemplary horror film. In spite of some late twists and grisly developments in the plot, the film lacks a forceful and all-encompassing horror concept like the shocking The Exorcist, the disaster-ridden The Omen or the dread filled The Wicker Man.

Perhaps a closer relation is Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook: a horror film whose scares never quite live up to the exemplary aspects of craft and performance surrounding them. While it is entirely unjustified to decry a horror film for reaching for higher standards of drama and film art, it is that authentic sense of catastrophe that truly endures.

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With much the same dark humor that made The Exorcist a provocative hit in 1973, director William Friedkin returns to the feature film form. His offering is the accomplished, occasionally masterful, but ultimately frustrating Killer Joe.

Killer Joe stars Matthew McConaughey as Joe Cooper (aka Killer Joe), a lawman moonlighting as a contract killer. Joe is contacted by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), a young man desperate to kill his estranged mother so that he can claim a large amount of insurance. Joe is driven by the fact that his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) is an alcoholic, his stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) is a slut and his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the picture of innocence, in need of saving from a dreadful life. He is also in debt to a local gang lord.

When Joe realizes that Chris has no money to pay him for the hit he turns down the deal, before proposing the dubious idea of a ‘retainer’: that is to say he wants permission to engage in an adult relationship with Dottie, despite the fact that she is only twelve. Chris allows his desperation get ahead of him and agrees to the deal, before promptly regretting it.

McConaughey’s turn as the leather clad Joe Cooper is utterly compelling; he is charming, amusing, assertive, immoral and sadistic. McConaughey wraps up all of these disparate characteristics seamlessly, with the classicism of Robert Michum in Night of the Hunter. He is a disgusting pleasure to watch.

Juno Temple is the film’s second revelation. While the twenty-two year old does not convince entirely as a twelve year old, she could certainly pass for fourteen. The sheer innocence of her performance is plenty to revile us at Joe’s sexual advances. The most disturbing factor though is that he treats her with more respect than any of her family members, in spite of his off kilter moral values.

Friedkin’s direction is electric throughout, quite literally at times: lighting and rain set the scene of this trailer trash noir. There is often great wit to be found in Friedkin’s camerawork and tense scenes can become hilarious in an instant. One raucously funny moment sees Sharla remove a loose thread from Ansel’s jacket, only to unthread the entire shoulder. The director shifts between scenes of comedy, tenderness and violence, blending them into one bizarre story world.

The film’s strength is in the ride. It is a nauseating, thrilling, riotous film with a skewed moral center and brilliantly defined characters. As the film builds to its intense conclusion (in a scene revolving around fried chicken) it showcases Friedkin’s grasp of cinematic extremes, but the build up exceeds the payoff.

Ultimately Killer Joe leaves us feeling appropriately reviled, but also somewhat deflated; when an audience experiences this much madness they are also due tangible closure.

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