4/16/04:

An average three-movie day today. I arrived nice and early to the Ritz East theater for my first movie.

Films I saw today: Time of the Wolf, The Five Obstructions, and A Tale of Two Sisters

Time of the Wolf

In yesterday's review of the hopeful and realistically optimistic Utopia, I talked about the prevalence of pessimistic, post-apocalyptic futures in sci fi films. This film depicts one of those futures. It is an example of the films with which I was comparing and contrasting Utopia--in fact, it is the complete opposite of Utopia; the poison to its antidote.

Which is not to say it is like most other post-apocalyptic films. On the contrary, though it shares a basic storyline with them, it actually has little in common with them, stylistically or emotionally. Even though post-apocalyptic films are, almost by definition, pessimistic, and tend to depict life at its most primitive and violent--bereft of the civilizing influence of society--they tend also to be event or action movies that don't really deal in any depth with the frightening issues with which they present us. The Mad Max films, though I love them to death, don't leave me pondering the fragility of society and man's inhumanity to man. They consist mainly of a lot of guys in ridiculous costumes getting into demolition derbies with each other. What I'm trying to say is, most post-apocalyptic films, though they are on the surface about the end of the world as we know it, don't really make us think about what would really happen if the world as we know it did, in fact, end. They actually tend to be fun, silly movies. Which makes sense, if you think about it--a concept as extreme as the apocalypse, when put into a story, is either going to be incredibly depressing, or ridiculous and funny. And most films are going to choose ridiculous and funny over depressing, since most people prefer to be entertained and not depressed.

Well, most people in America, anyway. Time of the Wolf is French, and you never know what the French will like. This film supplies us with none of the fun aspects of the apocalypse (big explosions and special effects), and instead heaps on liberal amounts of the really depressing bits (death, pain, and misery). In other words, this film doesn't give us the opportunity of distancing ourselves from the subject matter by showing us ridiculous and incredible characters and events. Instead it steeps us in its subject, creating a world that is completely possible, completely real, and totally horrifying.

I'm calling Time of the Wolf a sci fi film because it fits my definition of science fiction--it shows us a world that doesn't exist, but could. That world happens to be ours, in the future. Some might disagree with my genre classification, since this film is lacking almost all of the trappings that we tend to associate with sci fi--spaceships, aliens, gadgets, special effects, fun of any kind. But they'd be wrong.

The film's quiet, spare, somber tone is established as early as the opening credits sequence. The titles go by in a lengthy procession, in complete silence, without images of any kind in the background. The title of the film shows up somewhere in the middle, and then eventually the movie begins.

A family drives up to a house and begins unpacking their car. They seem to be on a vacation--this is their summer home, apparently. They go inside, only to discover that there's already a family living there. The father tries to strike a bargain with this family of squatters, proposing that they share the place, that they share the food. Before he can even finish, the father of the other family shoots him dead and drives the rest of the family out. Mme. Laurent, now a widow, her son Ben, and her daughter Eva are forced to leave with nothing. They wander the streets in blank horror, not even able yet to grieve. No one in town will give them shelter. "Don't you know what's going on?" one woman asks before shutting her door.

The answer, of course, is no. We don't know. And it is never explained. We don't know what terrible event has occurred to leave the world this way. But all government services, utilities, and social systems seem to have broken down. There's no water, no electricity, no shelter. People are hoarding food. There are bonfires, animals are being burned.

It is a unique and disturbing conceit of this unique and disturbing film that we never learn the nature of the "apocalypse." But this is not, as they say, the mystery at the center of the film. The nature of the terrible event, the director is telling us, is immaterial. What is important is how we react to it--how we survive. This is a film about the human response to ultimate catastrophe. Its conclusion is that we don't respond very well.

Ben, in particular, doesn't respond well. The family finds shelter for the night in an abandoned shack in the middle of the countryside. Ben worries so much about his pet bird that he ends up suffocating it. He runs off in the night and Eva and her mother search in the pitch darkness for him, trying to make some light by burning the hay that covers the floor of the shack. On the edge of the dark, a silent human shape appears--who is it? The scene is full of primal horrors--fear of the dark and of the unknown, fear of a mother for a lost child.

In the light of day, Ben returns, and a new character comes with him--a nameless young boy, gruff and mysterious. His hand is bloody with a wound he will not explain; later we will discover it is the result of his attempt to befriend one of the many stray dogs now roving the land, that never bark, but (he has learned) bite hard when approached. He has become one of these scavenging dogs, living at the edges of groups of people, silent and harsh, reflexively biting even the hands that reach out to help him. He is harsh with this broken family that wants his assistance, and wants to assist him. The young girl, Eva, is fascinated by him; she understands that his toughness is an act and that a kinder boy lurks inside of him. But she cannot draw him out, and is ultimately frustrated by his selfish, careless acts. He is a thief who takes what he wants, a scavenger on the fresh corpse of the world.

Soon enough, the family comes upon a small group of people that have come together in a tiny mockery of a society. They are waiting by the railroad tracks, hoping that a train will come by soon. They have placed a barricade on the tracks so the train will have to stop and pick them up and take them away from here, hopefully to some place where society still exists (although we never learn whether such a place is really out there or is merely an empty dream). Their "leader" is a blustering, officious man named Koslowski who claims to be trying to restore order. He carries a gun, makes rules, and passes judgement. But he is a hypocrite who accepts sexual favors from the women in exchange for better treatment. And his authority is mainly illusory. When men arrive on horseback selling water, he tries to assert his power with them, and fails utterly. They have guns, too, and no compassion.

The family joins this small group, waiting with them for a way out that may be an illusion. Another even larger group soon appears and plops itself right down on top of them, absorbing Koslowski's group and effectively erasing even the small amount of authority he had. But even this larger group of people really has no laws or authority. Among them is the family who had been squatting in the Laurents' holiday home; the mother accuses them of murder and demands justice. An authority figure is sent for (a man with a gun from the larger group), but he points out that he can do nothing. He has no proof, no evidence, just one person's word against another's.

This new world has none of the basic comforts of society; there is no justice, no happiness. It is full of lawlessness and pain. A young girl kills herself, seemingly after having been raped. A fight breaks out for no good reason.

One man tells a story about how people around the world are throwing themselves into fires. The Brothers of Fire, they're called. They're sacrificing themselves to save the world--to get it back on track. The man is at least half joking, making fun of another woman and her crazy story about how there are always 36 just people in the world at all times. But Ben believes him. He goes outside that night to a watch fire on the railroad tracks, takes all of his clothes off, and prepares to step into the flames. A man sitting outside, guarding the camp, sees the boy at the last moment and runs to stop him. He tries to comfort the child. You were ready to do it, he says. That's what counts. And maybe a car will come up and a man will get out and say everything's fine, and all the dead will come back to life.

It is an empty dream, painfully false; a desperate and clumsy attempt to placate a child. The next and final shot of the film is a long shot out of what appears to be a train window. A rural landscape, empty of people or houses, glides by for many minutes as the sound of the train moving along the rails plays in the background. Then, abruptly, the film ends.

It's not a very long story--it didn't take me long to summarize it--but the film is 113 minutes long, and feels even longer because of the slow pace and the unrelenting misery. As I said, Time of the Wolf is totally lacking in fun. Here are some of the words and phrases I used to describe it in my notes: "slow," "depressing," "quiet," "sad," "thoughtful," "frightening," "somber and painful," "so long and almost unbearable," and "Misery." Yes, that word was underlined and capitalized in my notes.

But despite these descriptors, I cannot call Time of the Wolf a bad film. It is well acted throughout; it is realistic; it is moving; it is engrossing; it is intelligent. The screenplay and direction (both by Michael Haneke) are impressive. The cinematography is quite beautiful--many of the images in this film have really stuck with me. This film is undeniably a powerful work of art.

But my God, it's so dark, depressing, and pessimistic! I mean, would things really be this bad? Are people really this pathetic, this selfish, this violent? Sure, some people are. Some people would inevitably take the fall of civilization as a chance to loot and rape and kill. But I think a goodly number of them would also come together and help each other. And Time of the Wolf is almost completely devoid of helpful, kind people. Almost every person we meet is either shrill, desperate, weak, selfish, and half-insane with fear, or cold, violent, inhuman, selfish, and terrible. Only the Laurent family is likable, and of them, only Eva manages to keep from cracking. Acts of kindness and selflessness in the film are few and far between, and always of a very small nature--someone offers some of their milk to a sick person; a man allows Eva to listen to music on an audio tape, spending some of the tape player's precious battery life (he asks her to rewind the tape manually to save as much power as possible).

The only hope and relief in the film comes from illusions and escapes from the here and now--the music I mentioned above; Eva's journal entries addressed to her dead father; magic tricks performed by an anonymous man; and stories, like the one the (seemingly insane) woman tells about the 36 just people, and the one the other man tells about the Brothers of Fire.

People listen intently to these stories, desperate for any kind of information--all lines of official communication have been cut (except for radio, but the information it's broadcasting is old and useless). But would the world so quickly descend back into primitive violence; into superstition and reliance on myths and folk tales; into desperation? I have called the film realistic because it gives the feel of reality by the way it is acted and filmed, but is this the way people would really act? I don't know. I hope not. I think of myself as having a generally dim view of human nature, but I'm also a bit of an optimist, and I'll admit it, I do like a happy ending, though I certainly don't demand one. Time of the Wolf's ending is open and enigmatic, like the endings of most French movies, but I actually like it--I like the way it suggests without saying. It's not any one scene that I dislike in Time of the Wolf; it's the movie as a whole that is so relentlessly depressing and empty of joy. If you have something dark to say about humanity, all right, I can deal with that; some of my favorite movies have really dark, awful things to say about humanity. But do you have to do it this way? With such agonizing, funereal solemnity? Without even a spark of hope or happiness?

Maybe you think this is a cheap criticism to have of a movie. Maybe you think I just don't want to consider what would actually happen to us if civilization collapsed; I want the distance and escapism given to me by other post-apocalyptic films. Maybe you think I'm a weak movie viewer and can't stand a film that "tells it like it is."

But if this is the way it is, then I'm not sure I want to go on living. So, yes, movies are works of art, and they should make us think about hard issues, as this one does. But movies are also entertainment, which means they should please us, and not make us want to kill ourselves, as this one does.

My Poll Rating: Good

Intermission

My next movie was in the very same theater, directly afterwards, but my girlfriend Sarah and my friend Star were joining me this time. I went back outside and got back in line. I got a call from Sarah and went out to meet her, then got back in line again. Luckily, even though I was now at the end of the line, it was the very short, super awesome all-access line, and in a very short time I was in the theater and grabbing us some great seats. Then I sat down to wait for the girls, and to enjoy my dinner--a good old PB&J sandwich which I had packed for this purpose. Star arrived a bit late, but before the movie started, so all was well.

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The Five Obstructions

Perhaps you've never heard of Lars von Trier. He's a Danish avant garde film director, responsible for such films as the incredible Breaking the Waves, and the more recent, and much despised, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville (neither of which I have seen, I am sad to admit). He also made the entertaining but insane TV mini series "The Kingdom" (recently remade for American TV as "Kingdom Hospital" by Stephen King, with disastrous results--when will Americans learn to stop remaking foreign films?), and its even more insane and less entertaining sequel, "The Kingdom II." He is also one of the founding members of a collective of film directors called Dogme 95, whose stated purpose is to counter the tendency they see in film toward the bourgeois, the romantic, and the individual. The strict set of rules for making a Dogme 95 film, which they call the "vow of chastity," can be found here (I found that page in a frame on their site; here's the link to the main page).

So Lars von Trier is a man who's very interested in the technique of film--specifically, a stripped-down style that's hard, bare, and uncompromising. He's also very interested in plumbing the depths of the human mind and spirit, of tearing away the shields and the masks that we put up to protect ourselves, and finding the ugly, brutal truths at the heart of things. His tool for doing this is film, and since he is a reflexive postmodernist at heart, he wants to do the same thing to this tool that he is doing with this tool--he wants to strip down film itself to its essentials, and remove all of its fancy trappings.

Lars von Trier is also a manipulative asshole, an arrogant control freak, and a visionary filmmaker whose works are unlike anything else you have ever seen--this new film of his being no exception. In The Five Obstructions (which is one part documentary and one part short film anthology), Lars von Trier challenges a mentor of his, Danish film director Jørgen Leth, to remake his own film--a short called The Perfect Human (1967)--five different times, each time with a different series of "obstructions," or limiting rules, that von Trier will set.

We already knew from his connection with Dogme 95 that von Trier loves rules and handicaps and tough, crippling filmmaking. His specific purpose here, which he makes clear as the film goes on, is to tear Leth open, lay bear his weaknesses and fears, and force Leth to confront them. This is therapy, he says. In fact, it seems clear, von Trier simply wants to defeat his old mentor--he wants Leth to make a bad film.

But Leth defeats him and his obstructions at every turn, his creativity and love of film trumping von Trier's craftiness and guile. Each little gem of a film is a triumph, because rather than try to sneak around or avoid von Trier's obstructions, Leth uses them to his advantage and makes them the heart of his film.

Before the contest begins, von Trier and Leth sit down in von Trier's house and watch the original film again. We get a quick look at it, too. As The Five Obstructions continues, we will see more and more of the film. At first I found this piecemeal revelation to be distracting, but I realized later that it was the best way to show us the film. If the thing had been shown in its entirety, all at once in the beginning, it would have slowed the film down a great deal, and we would have forgotten important parts of it as the movie went on. This way, we get to see the appropriate section of the original just before we watch a remake that focuses on that section. (I should add that I'm not sure, since I have never seen them before, whether Five Obstructions shows us any of the many versions of The Perfect Human in their entirety; I suspect that if not the whole then the great majority of each film is shown, but my friend Star, who accompanied me to the screening, thinks otherwise. You can judge for yourself.)

The Perfect Human is an odd little film. It is very spare--filmed in black and white, mostly in an entirely empty, white room. It takes the form of a kind of examination, as if from the perspective of an outsider of some kind (an alien?), of a man who is referred to as the titular "perfect human." The narrator (Leth himself) asks various questions about the perfect human--how does he dress? How does he eat? The film then shows us the man dressing, eating. The man also has a few snippets of dialogue, spoken to the camera, about strange events in his life. The film is a bit puzzling and odd, but also very wry and clever.

After von Trier and Leth have finished watching the film, von Trier begins formulating the first obstruction. He tries to get Leth to help him, asking him what he would like to do and what he would not like to do. When Leth mentions that he's never been to Cuba, von Trier decides that the film must be made in Cuba. When von Trier asks Leth how he's thinking of making the film, and Leth mentions building a set, von Trier immediately tells him he can't use any sets. At this point, Leth realizes what's going on and clams up, determined not to give von Trier any more information to work on. Even so, von Trier keeps trying to worm more out of him. Ultimately, there are four rules set for this first film--the two I mentioned, plus no shot can be longer than 12 frames (films tend to run at a speed of 24 frames per second, which means the final film will have to have a cut every half a second), and each question that is asked (the questions such as "How does he eat?" which I mentioned above) must be answered in the film.

On his way home from the meeting, Leth complains that this whole thing is insane, that von Trier is ruining the film from the start. But soon enough he's off to Cuba, and back with the completed film--a film he's become quite proud of, and which, in fact, is quite excellent. The relentless editing is a bit dizzying, but also fascinating and exhilarating.

Lars von Trier, of course, is disappointed, not because he doesn't like the film, but because he does--it's too good. He wants, he says, to proceed from the perfect to the human--he wants to take the great filmmaker Leth and turn him into a nothing. "How do we banalize you?" he asks.

And the film proceeds in this vein. For the second obstruction, von Trier gets even nastier. He asks Leth to make the film in the most miserable place he can think of (which for Leth is Bombay--years ago he was horrified by the poverty and agony he witnessed in the red light district there), but he must not actually show the misery in the film. Lars wants to see if the location will affect Leth--if it will rub off on him, and the effects will be visible in the film. So Leth himself must play the man, the "perfect human." And, to make things extra agonizing, von Trier specifies that the meal scene from the original film must be included this time.

So Leth soon finds himself in the place he hates the most, eating a large, rich meal in front of poor, starving Indian people. He puts a translucent screen up behind him, so the people are visible as vague shapes in the background as he eats his meal. It's an amazing visual (it's this image, in fact, that was chosen as the one to represent this film in the festival program guide and website), and another amazing film. But when Leth returns with it, von Trier, strict sadomasochist that he is, protests that this is not the film he asked for--he didn't want to see the people and their misery at all. "It's a lovely film," von Trier says, "but it didn't follow the rules. In fact, it's probably better than the one I wanted." But this is therapy, not a film competition. To punish Leth for his failure, von Trier gives him an ultimatum--for the next obstruction, he must either return to Bombay and make the same film again, this time following the rules strictly, or make a totally new film, this one with no rules whatsoever.

Leth is horrified by both options, but ultimately chooses the obstruction of no obstructions. He underlines the competitive, game-like aspect of this project by saying, "Trier is serving and we must return the serve." He heads to Brussels and casts as his new perfect man the Belgian character actor Patrick Bachau (who had small parts in Panic Room, The Cell, Clear and Present Danger, and And the Band Played On, as well as various American TV shows and foreign films). This time there's more of a story suggested in the film; there's sex and intrigue. In fact, this is the best of the five remakes, and possibly even better than the original film. Leth uses split screen effects to show off the beautiful cinematography and imagery. He returns in triumph again with another excellent film.

Lars is frustrated again--he says he's hurt Leth with these obstructions, but he hasn't left a mark on him, and that's what he wants: "a tortoise on its back." But, "you're so clever that whatever I say inspires you."

However, he still wants to force Leth to do something he hates, so this time, he says, make a cartoon. Leth is horrified. "I hate cartoons!" he says. Lars nods, agreeing. He adds that not only must it be a cartoon, it must specifically be the kind of cartoon that they both hate, with no clever artistic touches.

So there it is--the fourth obstruction. Leth is convinced that it will be crap. "I won't do it, no!" he protests. But of course he does. And of course he ends up getting excited about it and enjoying it, and ends up making another totally engaging and interesting film. This obstruction was, for me, emblematic of the film as a whole, with Leth reacting, at first, with extreme revulsion and negativity toward von Trier's rules, but then almost immediately finding himself inspired and excited, and ultimately producing a fantastic film. In a wonderful and funny scene, Leth is over the animator's house, looking over the sample images the animator has put together for him--Leth is meant to be picking out the ones he likes and discarding the ones he doesn't. The problem is, he likes them all; he wants them all.

The fourth obstruction turns out to be a beautiful, colorful cartoon full of animated versions of footage already shot for the earlier remakes, as well as fresh footage--one of the new images is of a tortoise on its back, a clear jab at von Trier.

So Leth wins again. But von Trier has saved his worst for last. For the final obstruction, von Trier himself will make the movie and write the narration, which takes the form of a letter from Leth to von Trier. Then Leth will have to read the narration, and he will be credited as director.

It's an insane, sick little joke, and von Trier makes the most of it, putting some nasty words in the mouth of his old mentor. His narration takes on a tone that is both haughty and humble, as he simultaneously exalts and debases himself using Leth's mouth. The narration plays over actual footage and behind-the-scenes footage from the various versions of The Perfect Human, edited together into a clever, nasty new film. Ultimately, it seems as if Lars is the one really in need of therapy here, with this strange split-personality letter written to himself, by himself, that attacks both him and the "author." He ultimately seems to concede defeat to Leth, by having Leth claim victory in the letter. And though his concession may be sarcastic and cowardly, his defeat is true. Leth has won, and shown the true spirit of the artist and the filmmaker, who hates and loves his art, ultimately embracing and thriving on the difficulties of its making. The Five Obstructions is a wonderful film--full of films--about film, filmmakers, and filmmaking, with von Trier playing the inner demon to Leth's tortured artist. It posits film as game, film as therapy, film as confession, film as torture. But mostly it shows us film as triumph. And somehow along the way it manages to be a triumph itself.

My Poll Rating: Excellent

Intermission

My next movie was on the opposite side of town, so we hurried outside. Sarah doesn't like scary movies, and this next film was definitely supposed to be one of those, so she was headed back to my apartment. Star, however, is a big fan of scary movies, so she was coming with me. Luckily, our destinations both lay in a westward direction (pretty much the only way to go from Ritz East is west, actually; that's why they call it Ritz East), so we could travel together at least part of the way. Star suggested we take the bus, since it could take us practically door to door, as both theaters are along Walnut, and the bus travels along that street. This sounded like a good idea, but unfortunately, the traffic was terrible (it was a Friday night, after all), and the bus took forever to arrive, and forever to get to its destination. Sarah jumped off early, while Star and I stayed on. I kept staring at the clock, watching tensely as the minutes ticked by. The start time of the movie passed us by, and still we hadn't arrived. For whatever reason, I hate being late to things (my most common nightmares are about being late to classes in high school or college), so this was freaking me out. But luckily, as pretty much always happens (so I don't know why I keep worrying), the movie had not started yet when we got into the theater--and in fact did not start for some time, since this show was completely sold out, and they wanted to get in as many people as they could. Actually, this was the most packed I've ever seen a theater. They even brought in extra chairs from outside so they could seat more people.

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A Tale of Two Sisters

This is another one of those supernatural horror thrillers with multiple surprise twists at the end. You know, like The Sixth Sense or (God forbid) The Eye. These films are pretty big in a number of countries right now, including America and Hong Kong--and Korea, where this one was made. The director is a relative amateur, with few other films under his belt (although one of them--The Quiet Family [1998]--is, as our programmer, Travis Crawford, pointed out, the original film that Takashi Miike's musical remake The Happiness of the Katakuris was based on; I saw Happiness at the festival two years ago and enjoyed it quite a bit). But his film was such a critical and commercial success in his native country that it's soon to be remade in America.

Usually we only disgrace the world with a tawdry remake when the original is pretty good, so I figured it was worth it to go check out A Tale of Two Sisters. Plus, to be honest, I was bound to see this movie. Despite the way I talk about the genre, I can't resist a supernatural horror thriller.

Sisters begins, like Haute Tension and other such films, at the end, and then flashes back. In fact, it begins in a hospital, with our female main character as a traumatized patient, just like Haute Tension. This time our patient (and main character) is a young girl with long, straight black hair hanging down over her face (a la the scary girl in Ring). Her name is Su-mi. When the doctor asks her "what happened that day" (duh duh!), we jump back in time and see Su-mi arriving at a big house on a lake. Accompanying her are her father and her younger, meeker sister, Su-yeon. Inside, the girls meet a woman who at first appears to be a friend of the father, possibly a housekeeper, but later on we learn she is actually the girls' stepmother, and the father's new wife. She makes an effort to ingratiate herself to the girls, but they clearly dislike her--especially Su-mi. Why? What has happened? The girls seem to have been ill recently, and this trip to the house appears to be a sort of holiday--a period of recuperation. But from what?

There's definitely a lot of history here among these characters, but what exactly that history is, the movie is very slow to reveal to us. We are forced to guess at what has happened, at what the relationships are here, and the movie deliberately leads us into making wrong guesses, so when it finally does reveal the truth, we are totally shocked, and must discard all our ideas of how we think things happened. Multiple times during this film, I started to write down something in my notes about the plot, only to be forced to scribble it out in the next couple minutes when I learned I was totally wrong. The movie keeps you guessing about everything--about who's crazy and who's not, about what's real and what's dream or insane delusion.

The stepmother is a strict disciplinarian, very prim and proper, who demands that everything be in its right place. Su-mi is stubborn and sullen, prone to violent moods, and fights her every step of the way. Su-yeon is meek and quiet, and perhaps a little slow. She fears the stepmother's discipline--and with good reason, we'll learn later. The father comes across as generally a normal guy, trying desperately to make things work, but even so some of his actions are questionable. He has phone conversations with another woman about what's going on at the house. Who is it? What happened to his first wife? Why won't he sleep with his new wife, instead creeping out to sleep on the couch? And what is with this house? It seems full of unexplained noise and movement. In one totally horrifying scene, an unknown presence invades Su-yeon's room. She pulls the covers over her head and closes her eyes so she won't have to see what it is that has come to haunt her, and the audience wishes it could do the same.

Even more horrifying nightmare sequences follow. Then a scene that's hard to watch for quite different reasons--an uncle comes to visit, and there is a long and painfully embarrassing dinner sequence during which all of the stepmother's efforts to lighten the occasion fail utterly. The meal ends with the uncle's wife choking, falling to the floor in a seizure, writhing, and finally vomiting. While on the floor, she sees...something...under the sink. Later, the stepmother is cleaning the floor and senses the thing under the sink, too. She bends down to look...

This is the first point in the movie when I was actually afraid to look at the screen. I did not want to see what the film might show me. Very few movies have made me feel this way. Tale of Two Sisters made me feel this way multiple times. As a scary movie, it is undeniably effective. It uses a potent combination of loud sounds and hideous, haunting imagery to frighten the living crap out of you.

Even so, I cannot say I enjoyed this film. The trick to making a good horror film is to scare people in a way that is entertaining. But this film is painfully scary. It made me feel sick and wrong. It also made me feel confused. As I already mentioned, the movie is a bit of a puzzle, dropping you in the middle of a story, the beginning of which is unknown to you. Unfortunately, I found myself still puzzled at the end of the movie. The ultimate fate of one or two of the main characters is left unexplained (one is left in a room facing a hideous ghost--and we never see what happens!), and other issues are also left unresolved. Also, those loud sounds I mentioned are sometimes really over-the-top; the foley (noises made to mimic sounds not actually recorded during shooting) is often just ridiculous. And frankly suddenly turning the volume up really loud is a pretty cheap way to scare somebody.

I won't say much more about the film; much of its effectiveness lies in the element of surprise, so I won't ruin it by giving anything more away. And honestly I have little else to say. I think I actually need to see this film again to give a firm and final opinion of it. All I can give you now is my original gut reaction to it--I was left puzzled, sick, and unhappy. And that's not exactly what I want out of a film-going experience.

My Poll Rating: Fair

Epilogue

Before finding a cab to hail, Star and I walked a few blocks through University City, watching the drunk college kids and discussing the film. We both agreed the film was frightening and disturbing in a not so enjoyable way. And I should mention that it was Star who pointed out to me the fact that the film left certain things unresolved. Maybe it's because I tend to give a movie the benefit of the doubt, or maybe it's because it was late and I've really seen way too many movies in the past week, but I just hadn't noticed.

Anyway, Star got out of the cab at her apartment and I rode it the rest of the way to my own. Then I headed upstairs and tried to get to sleep. Unfortunately, my brain was still full of the horrifying images and sense of unease that Tale of Two Sisters had left there, and I had a pretty hard time...

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Jim Genzano





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