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Films I Neglected To Review: Aoalsmenn!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Lamb," "Suzanna Andler" and "V/H/S/94."

At the beginning of the moody new Icelandic oddity "Lamb," we witness a married couple--Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonaxon)--going about their duties on there remote farm in a manner that, even under those particular circumstances, is so joyless and desultory that they barely seem to recognize each other as anything other than coworkers charged with tending the sheep. Things change one day when a lamb is born and they decide to bring it into their home and raise it as if it were their own child, even naming her Ada. Because we have no real inkling of their past and will not even get a decent look at Ada until about 40 minutes in, at the conclusion of the first of the three chapters making up the story, we have no idea as to why they have elected to do this but it is hard not to notice that the new addition brings some much-needed happiness to their lives. Even Petur (Bjorn Hiynur Haraldson), Ingvar's failed pop star brother with a long-standing infatuation for Maria who unexpectedly turns up one day and is initially appalled by what he is seeing, finds himself succumbing to the charms of his new niece. However, while the three are quick to embrace the miracle of Ada's arrival, they never really get around to ponder the specifics of exactly how she arrived there and, without giving too much away, let me just say that it doesn't bode well for any of them.

Needless to say, "Lamb" is the kind of weirdo cinematic experience that seems designed to divide audiences sharply down the middle and indeed, I found my own reaction to it to be split evenly as well. On the one hand, it is beautifully made--director/co-writer Vladimir Johannsson establishes a hypnotically unsettling mood from the opening moments and pretty much sustains it until the very end--and the performances are all quite good with Rapace delivering some of her best work to date. On the other, the film eventually reveals itself to be nothing more than a shaggy dog story, so to speak, and while the punchline is certainly jolting enough, it takes so long to get to it that most viewers may find themselves losing patience with it long before it drops. (The stuff involving the wayward brother is almost entirely extraneous to the story at hand.) Had it clocked in at a shorter length, my guess is that both the big finale and the film as a while might have had more punch but at 108 minutes, it just can't quite sustain itself. That said, while I am not saying that it is exactly worth seeing, those with a taste for oddball cinema may get a kick out of it. More importantly, I can almost guarantee that whether you like it or not, you will not come out of it thinking "Man, how many times have I seen that before?"

With "Suzanna Andler," the prolific French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot returns with his latest effort, an adaptation of Marguerite Duras's 1975 play about a 40-year-old woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg, who co-starred in Jacquot's "3 Hearts") who, while visiting the Riviera beach house that she is planning on renting for her family's summer vacation, is forced to confront both her unhappy marriage to a rich but unfaithful husband and her rocky relationship with her younger lover (Niels Schneider). Although some of the material on hand is a bit on the dry and dusty side and will admittedly test the patience of some viewers, the film is still more than worth a look thanks to Gainsbourg's often-galvanizing central performance, one that so thoroughly dominates the proceedings (in the best possible way, I assure you) that even though she shares the screen with other actors throughout (besides Schneider, Jacquot regular Julia Ray turns up for a key scene as a mutual friend of Suzanna and her husband who is revealed to be much more than that), it almost feels at times like a 90-minute solo performance from one of the most endlessly fascinating actresses working today. This is one of the very best performances that you will see in a film this year and while it will no doubt receive scant notice in comparison to the various award-bait turns coming down the pike in the next few weeks, my guess is that I will be thinking about long after many of those that do earn all the hype and prizes had faded from memory.

Following the template set by the original "V/H/S" (2012) and its two followups, "V/H/S/2" (2013) and "V/H/S: Viral" (2014), "V/H/S/94" is a horror anthology in which a group of up-and-coming filmmakers present short found footage-style shock stories purportedly presented to us via the titular format. "Holy Hell," written and directed by Jennifer Reeder and serving as the connective tissue for the other segments, follows a SWAT team as they execute what they believe is supposed to be a raid on a drug den but which takes a decided turn when they discover a lot of dead bodies and an equally large number of television monitors display the disturbing videos that make up the bulk of the film. Chloe Okuno's "Storm Drain" follows a newscaster and her cameraman who delve into the tunnels of the local sewer in search of a purported creature known locally as the "Rat Man"--suffice it to say, things do not end well for them. Simon Barrett's "The Empty Wake" observes a new employee at a funeral home charged with putting together wake during a dark and stormy night for a corpse whose coffin seems to be moving more than usual--suffice it to say, things do not end well for her. Timo Tjahjanto's "The Subject" gives us a mad scientist whose ghastly experiments involving human-robot hybrids attract the attention of a team of heavily armed cops determined to stop him--suffice it to say, things do not end well for them. Finally, Ryan Prows's "Terror" offers up a Michigan militia group who have somehow managed to capture a vampire and plan to utilize its blood, which explodes upon contact with sunlight, to help them carry out an attack on a federal building in Detroit--suffice it to say, things do not end well for them, though this is the only time when that essentially results in a happy ending.

Like pretty much all anthology films of note, "V/H/S/94" is kind of a mixed bag and viewers will likely have wildly differing views on what they consider to be the peaks and valleys. To these eyes, the best of the bunch is "The Empty Wake," which may stretch the found footage conceit a little too much at times but which makes up for it with a nice Bava-like sense of mounting dread that culminates in some nicely icky visuals. "Terror," on the other hand, is a pretty good stab at horror-comedy, though it seems odd to stick the most overtly goofy story at the end instead of one offering more straightforward scares. "Storm Drain" is fairly dopey but Okuno presents it with a lot of style and the final punchline, although more than a little reminiscent of the finale of another genre classic, is effective. (This segment also contains a faux commercial from Steven Kostanski for the "Vegetable Masher" that is a hoot.) The only real dud of the bunch is "The Subject," a body horror bore that brings nothing to the table except for gallons of blood, which may make it a favorite among the gorehunds in the audiences. Although not quite as good as "V/H/S/2," which remains the best of the franchise, it certainly beats the dreadful "Viral" like a gong and genre fans should find it to be more consistently entertaining than most films of this type.

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originally posted: 10/08/21 10:43:28
last updated: 10/09/21 05:42:51
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