uk cinema

THE MOVIE CHALLENGES

THE REZORT

UK 2015

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Karl Marx and Herbert Marcuse have to take some responsibility. Before they mentioned industrial alienation and the one-dimensional man of consumer capitalism human beings only had to worry about classical pessimism. Now you cannot trip over a discarded zombie without thinking about the absence of free will in the modern world. As this is being typed, the inhabitants of the UK are searching for Black Friday deals from retailers. This hysteria has already been celebrated on social media as if it is the next stage in human fulfilment. Zombie moviemakers think differently. The notion of what separates one-dimensional humans in a materialist society from empty-headed zombies has been explored for half a century. In The Rezort the idea is made explicit. Two women sit on the bonnet of a Range Rover and ask whatever happened to free will. They are confused as to what is supposed to be the difference between hungry zombies and glutinous humans obsessed with spending money.

 

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The Rezort is a low budget British horror movie. It has a mix of actors and accents from various countries and continents. A harsh landscape filmed in dark blue filter helps  Australian actress Jessica De Gouw to feel at home. The Rezort is available on DVD and can be streamed from Netflix but the only cinemas that have shown the film are in Spain and the Philippines. Not everyone has been sympathetic to the film. It has been condemned for lacking originality but if using Jurassic Park as a model for a zombie horror film feels obvious, it is a neat notion. The 4.33 concerto by John Cage that was premiered in 1952 has no notes. He believed that silence did not exist, and to prove him right all you had to do was listen to it.  Cage was both praised and condemned for producing something that required no effort from him other than walking to a redundant piano.  We all could have done what John Cage did but he thought of it first.    An out of control tourist resort provides a good setting for a zombie picture.  What succeeded in Westworld and Jurassic Park works for The Rezort.  Perhaps its jaundiced view about modern humanity is nothing new but we should be wary of knocking critical continuity and consistency.

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The Rezort is a movie aimed at horror fans.  It has zombies, exploding heads, gruesome deaths and for once the zombies are not just interested in eating brains.  In The Rezort the desire for vengeance unites both zombies and humans. The Rezort may not be the equal of Last Train To Busan, The Girl With All The Gifts or Maggie but those films lifted and extended the zombie genre. They are all exceptional efforts. The Rezort has a couple of implausible moments and the social satire is heavy handed but it is more watchable than either the pointless World War Z or the overwrought The Walking Dead.  The Rezort demonstrates that modest B movie ambition and serious purpose are not incompatible. The connection the film makes between the fear and persecution of zombies and our treatment of refugees is valid.  Jurassic Park asked us to worry about extinct dinosaurs and possibly the planet but was softened by Spielberg caramel. The Rezort avoids the sugar. It examines what we are and our willingness to dismiss the existence of others. In Spain the film was called Generación Z.  For the self-centred holidaymakers the zombies are a source of amusement. Apart from the businessmen who see them as a resource that will generate a profit the refugees camped outside the zombie park are ignored. When someone in the media half-heartedly suggests possible exploitation, an executive spouts the normal clichés about creating jobs.

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Much of the film is familiar but that is the point. Nothing has changed since the original movie warnings were made about the lives we live and the resources we consume. At least familiar scenes have the virtue of provoking cineaste memories. In The Rezort the cast spends time walking between possible zombie hideouts and looking around anxiously.  At times it has the feel of a Budd Boetticher Western. Dougray Scott leads the group through the hazards and makes a few nods to his namesake Randolph. He plays a man of strength and few words but we also have a hint of his demons through one simple line of dialogue. The presence of Dougray Scott as Archer in The Rezort should interest more than a few movie fans. He was the alternative choice to Daniel Craig for James Bond.  Scott has the Celtic roots of Brosnan but the nihilistic insouciance of Craig. We root for this lonely leader. Jessica De Gouw plays the weakened but still strong Melanie. She attends the resort because her psychiatrist has the idea that those traumatised by the previous apocalypse can seek solace by taking pot shots at tamed zombies. This is another neat concept in a film that has more than a few sly intelligent moments.

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The characterisation in the movie may be thin but there is sharp delineation between the main protaganists.  The perhaps crude distinctions do not prevent the existence of ‘doubles’ within the film. All the main characters are the other side of the same coin to someone else.  The two computer technicians who fail to spot the security lapse are insular and have no understanding of their culpability.  The zombie that is used for display purposes and to welcome the tourists resembles the evil female boss of the zombie park.  Melanie and Sadie the left wing activist have some sympathy for the zombies and share a similar conscience. Their empathy and decency are underlined after it is revealed that Sadie has unwittingly created the tragedy in the resort.  Again it is achieved by just one short line of dialogue.  Archer and Lewis, the boyfriend of Melanie, are ex-Army men scarred by the experience of conflict. The two teenage dudes are empty headed and adrenaline fed.  These adolescents are a weakness in the film.  Their parts are overwritten and overplayed. Watch this excitable pair and you have a sense of how Ant and Dec must have been the day Dec was admitted to rehab.  More impressive is how the plot dovetails between the fates of two sets of twin characters. The end of the film emphasises the importance of doubles and alternatives in our lives.

Low light photography is pushed to the limit in The Rezort.  A major set piece takes place in nothing but a dark room yet it succeeds in adding to the suspense and action.  No doubt it put a smile on the face of the person who managed the budget for the film. When not being entertained, the tourists inhabit dark interiors.  These contrast with the outdoors and bright colours of the resort. The darkness symbolises empty personal confusion and the dependency on distraction. Life is even tougher for the refugees in their camp outside the resort. The vision of the powerful for the future of the refugees is heartless, as of course it is in the real world.

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The figures for the actual refugee problem are as disturbing and as overwhelming as the zombie mass that we see run through the landscape in The Rezort . In 2017 there are 152m people in need of humanitarian assistance. 64m have been forced to flee their homes, and 94m lack access to clean water. Fixing the problem will cost a lot more than making a low budget zombie movie. The estimate is $23.1bn.  Some countries are helping.  Global authorities classify countries and their economies as either strong or fragile. The 36 most fragile countries account for just 2.65% of the global gross domestic product but are the hosts to 71% of the population of the world that has been internally displaced. South Sudan wins the prize for being the most fragile country in the world but hosts 219 displaced people per 1000 inhabitants. The UK, Canada and Australia host 3 displaced people per 1000 inhabitants. The European Union has 24% of global gross domestic product but hosts just 1% of the forcibly displaced people that exist on the planet. The USA has 23% and also hosts 1% of refugees. There are excuses for the poor performance of the UK. The British economy has tanked, the Daily Mail spouts prejudice and the British Government no longer has the competence to provide jobs and income for its own citizens.

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The Rezort is a low budget zombie movie. The technical expertise hides those budgetary limitations, and accomplished editing ensures that the film moves along without any hitches. The celebratory scenes in the resort lack the scale of The Hunger Games but they are realistic. More important than any of that is the accusatory heart that pumps the pulse of the film.   Daily Mail readers could do a lot worse at the end of the night than sit down and sample The Rezort. They should fold their newspaper, pour a whisky perhaps, switch on the streaming account with Amazon or Netflix and then watch the movie. After being entertained they can think again about what they should do on their holidays. They may also want to consider why so many of their generation voted for Brexit and a Government that believes additional tax breaks are essential for the rich but the absence of clean water, education, a home and medical care for millions of people can be ignored.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REAL MEAN CRITTERS

THE HAUNTING

UK

1963

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Few 20th Century horror writers have the intellectual and critical heft of Shirley Jackson. Her novels are available as Penguin Modern Classics. She shares the same list as Orwell, Camus, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and the other heavy hitters. Her books reveal effort plus application and serious thinking about character and the world she lived in. She also was able to appeal to a sizeable readership. Her short stories were published in The New Yorker magazine, which meant that for most of her life she wrote on her terms. Jackson refused to promote her books. She wanted the books to be self-explanatory. Having the adoration of The New Yorker magazine and big publishing houses helped. Since her death critics and academics have continued the praise and attention. Donna Tart, who can be as snotty as anyone, is a big fan. The influence of Shirley Jackson can also be seen in the two horror films of Robert Aldrich especially Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.

The novel The Haunting Of Hill House was published in 1959. The film adaptation directed by Robert Wise was released in 1963. The novel is fine and often brilliant but it is not the masterpiece claimed by some. The relationship between Eleanor and Theodora does not always connect on the written page in the way it should. In the film this weakness is mitigated. The presence of talented actors helps. The ending of the book confirms what we know about Eleanor. She wants a home and needs to be cherished by someone and will even sacrifice herself to achieve that ambition. The ending, though, does not feel inevitable. It is a waste of a human life that could have been avoided, and only a dope would have allowed anyone to drive home alone after what has happened in Hill House.

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The original novel was written in the third person but it also describes at length the private thoughts of Eleanor. This is a compromise required by the developments of the plot. The use of the third person to describe the inner thoughts of Eleanor is a clue as to why not everything in the book works. Adapting the book for a film would have been difficult for any scriptwriter. Nelson Gidding had a name that in a parallel universe could have helped him be remembered as a jazz pianist.   In this one he wrote film scripts for Hollywood producers. Giddings does a decent job on the screenplay. He makes the right decisions about what to include and leave out. His changes from the novel are designed to add audience appeal and are less successful.

Dr John Markway is head of the group that will investigate the rumours about Hill House. In the book he had a wife who was also interested in the paranormal. This is changed for the film, and the main purpose of the wife in the movie is to add drama to the climax. To be fair her presence does facilitate a couple of decent moments including a good jump scare. The emotional and contrived physical distance between Markway and his wife allows scriptwriter Gidding to allude to an emotional connection between Eleanor and Markway. The real romance in the film, though, is between Eleanor and Theodora. There are a couple of references that indicate Theodora is a lesbian. The movie suggests lesbian and sexual possibilities between the two women but those who conclude that the neurosis of Eleanor is rooted in lesbian frustration are missing the point.

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In the book Eleanor yearns to go and live with Theodora. Eleanor wants a friend and a home, something better than the sofa she sleeps on in the living room of her sister back home. If Eleanor cannot have a sophisticated friend and share a smart apartment then a disturbing empty mansion and a few unsettling ghosts are still better than the sofa. Eleanor like most of us imagines a relationship consisting of intimacy with another person and the home being both the place where the intimacy happens and an element in that intimacy. Because Eleanor has never had a real home and has either lived with a begrudging sister or a demanding mother, she is not clear which is the key element in the intimacy she requires. For this confusion to be valid not only has Hill House to be a key character in the film, Eleanor has to be neurotic. The film and book both begin and end with a description of the house. In Britain women used to describe men with money and prospects as bricks and mortar. Shirley Jackson is nowhere near as crude as this but she understands that relationships and our desire for intimacy and kinship are intertwined with our fetishist obsession with place and home. Eleanor also has guilt over the death of her mother, which brought relief rather than grief. The truth about Eleanor is that she would have probably settled for just a house. We know that this desire does not make her unique. One of the previous victims of Hill House had lived there alone. It was what a poor girl assumed would give her happiness.

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These ideas make The Haunting Of Hill House conceptual but because Eleanor is complex and tortured the book is also rich in characterisation. Her oppressed existence and guilt have given Eleanor a sense that she is not normal. Although she never quite says so, Eleanor fears exposure. She worries that people will notice that she is not what she feels obliged to pretend. A relationship is important to Eleanor because it would enable her to vanquish the memory of her mother and to cease worrying about her being unlike others. For the wounded, affection and a sympathetic ear will provide security but a home or a house can also offer sanctuary. Shirley Jackson was also interested in why and how people needed scapegoats. Eleanor is sensitive and odd but she may also have a sense of her fate as a scapegoat, how she has been primed by her mother and sister to be a sacrifice.

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Eleanor is a demanding part for an actress. Julie Harris has to deliver the inner monologue and not irritate. Her appearance is ordinary rather than charismatic which is why she often played outsiders. The voice of Harris, though, is great. Actor Alec Baldwin described it as sounding like rainfall. It promises mystery and discovery, as if each sentence is a journey that will surprise. Claire Bloom plays Theodora and tones down the acidity in the character that existed in the book. The relationship between the two women varies between hostility and affection but because of the actors it is believable. The final words from Theodora to Eleanor are taken from the book and are memorable. The simple instruction to Eleanor to be happy is powerful and ambiguous, a suggestion that a weaker and more fragile person should settle for modest purpose but also an acknowledgement that this pathetic creature has a will capable of self-destruction and damage.

The Haunting like the earlier The Innocents is in marvellous black and white widescreen. The two films were made within three years of one another. Both movies are ghost stories that have a neurotic female character discovering a house that may be haunted.  The Innocents has a refinement and a subtlety that The Haunting lacks. The opening Hammer style title sequence appears to acknowledge that nothing can compete with Henry James.

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Apart from his career director Wise was also famous for editing The Magnificent Ambersons when he added routine scenes. Orson Welles had left for Brazil and had expected his film to be released intact into cinemas. Fans of Orson Welles believe that Wise colluded in the destruction of a masterpiece. The interiors of Hill House and the wide-angle photography evoke the Ambersons’ home as it was imagined by Welles. Perhaps the photography Wise uses in The Haunting is atonement for his previous compliance with the moneymen at the RKO studio. The wide angles and enlarged faces are effective and emphasise how remote the four people in the group are from each other. What we see of others is both limited and distorted. Other people are what we are obliged to both observe and imagine. There is an irony in this. Used by a demanding mother, Eleanor has been ignored most of her life. She may need to hide her true self but she also needs to be the centre of attention within the group. Without the interest of others Eleanor lacks stability. Driving to Hill House she worries about both the journey and what to expect. There are times when Eleanor is indeed consoled by the presence of the group. She talks about the visit being the most exciting thing that has happened to her. But she is always fearful that the group will reject her and perhaps select her as the scapegoat. Compared to satisfying the expectations of a group of people an emotional investment restricted to one person is low risk. And a house is less risk again except that houses are like people and they have secrets. They and us cannot be trusted.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.