For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Says the cult leader played by Brit Marling in Sound of My Voice, “It’s nice to see new faces.”
One could say the same right back, because the absence of movie stars in the microbudget indie — now showing only at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial — places the audience in as precarious a position as its protagonists: With no comfortable faces to latch onto, whom you know will lead you toward a happy ending, you’re completely in the dark. Just what the hell is going to happen?
Unpredictability: In this instant-spoiler age, it’s a rare, wonderful thing.
Even I, who sees a dozen movies each week, knew not where Sound of My Voice was going, and it was an absolute delight to be so unnerved.
Christopher Denham (Shutter Island) and Nicole Vicius ((500) Days of Summer) play documentary filmmakers investigating a suburban-basement cult led by Maggie (Marling, who co-wrote with debuting director Zal Batmanglij), a 20-something blonde who’s hooked up to an oxygen tank and claims to be from the year 2054.
Much as Marling casts a spell on her followers, she also enchants the audience, drawing viewers into Voice’s narrative trap like a spider to a fly. Without revealing details, Marling pulled the same kind of brainy, sci-fi stunt in last year’s imperfect, but intriguing Another Earth, but Voice is the far superior work.
Two weeks after seeing it, I’m still haunted by it, still thinking about it, still trying to wrap my head about the questions it purposely leaves open. While not for everybody’s tastes, it is, for me, the best film 2012 has offered thus far. —Rod Lott