Quick Hit: Perfect thrill setting, unforgettable characters, and great pacing lead to a wonderful film experience.
Scaring an entire generation out of the water, Jaws also inspired the summer blockbuster season. Jaws also launched Spielberg from being another talented director to being the huge studio name that we have today. Oh, and if anyone else noticed, Jaws also built an entire enterprise of shark films. Why did it have such a lasting reach? Because Spielberg and his cast created a movie that was perfect in so many ways.
I don’t need to go much into the story here – most people know it. But few people realize that Peter Benchley’s novel can take a lot of credit for the story. Carl Gottlieb did a good job cutting out the extra fat on the story – an extramarital affair is one of the things that hit the cutting floor. But, the story is one that is fully efficient in its characterization. There is just very little wasted space in the film, and it means that the story continually hurtles forward. But there are also moments of great characterization, like when all the men are sitting on the boat and swapping stories. It’s a great example of efficient characterization, and more filmmakers should take the opportunity to have movies this way.
It’s also a masterclass in tension, and a way to make a great monster movie (make no mistake – Jaws is about a monster through and through). A lot of this came from necessity with the mechanical sharks consistently breaking down, but some of it was Spielberg realizes that often times what we cannot see is scarier than what we can. He accomplishes this in a variety of ways, from POV shots (from the shark’s POV), or just shots of things floating on the surface showing the shark’s actions, if not necessarily the shark. All of this, coupled with John William’s famous score, means that by the time you actually see “Bruce”, as he was deemed on set, your eyes forgive his flaws and he is terrifying.
I also love the characters in this film. Brody, played by Roy Schneider, is both an amazing character and a great cast – very few could have played him as straight as Schneider does. Robert Shaw comes out as probably the most memorable of all the characters in Quint – he has some of the best lines in the film, after all. But it was an all-around great ensemble, with characters like Mayor Larry Vaughn played the way you would read him – as a small-town huckster who just wants to stay up on top of the power pyramid while he can.
I love Jaws, and think that it’s always worth a revisit for people. I’m giving it a “A+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Dark and twisty inside, but fumbles the ending a bit.
When setting up the schedule for the month, you would think that I would have planned throwing this up directly after the occult wickedness of Pyewacket. However, it was a delightfully black accident. Today we feature another movie about this occult, but this one is much more drawn out, and there isn’t a simple spell to get what needs to be done. Today’s film is Liam Gavin’s directorial debut A Dark Song.
A Dark Song follows Sophia (Catherine Walker), who has lost her child. She wants to contact him so she pays Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram) a ridiculous sum of money to walk her through the complicated occult ritual to summon her guardian angel. This involves cleansing her spiritually, as well as physically, and staying in the same house for weeks on end without leaving. This also involves several scenes of near torture, that seem very near to waterboarding and other heinous acts.
The best experience that A Dark Song can give you is that you don’t quite know whether Solomon is legitimate or not. He comes across as extremely shady, and as the film progresses you start to doubt him, as does Sophia. This comes to point in the center of the film where you absolutely believe that he is full of it, and that he has simply taken advantage of this woman for weeks. But though that sounds like a perfectly good plot for a horror movie, that isn’t what happens here. Eventually, the tables turn, and we begin to experience things with Sophia. Dark things that involve death and evil.
I really liked a lot of the ritual scenes, because they really showed the devotion that these the characters would have to have in order to go through with such an experience. I’m not sure how much of this was based on research vs. just a general idea of the practice, but it was beautiful attention to set detail. I also thought that the script was pretty well-done, up until the end, and that Gavin was extremely confident with his camera. There are very few moments where he shies away from anything, and it helps us to have this realism when things start to go bump in the night. Otherwise, would we even believe them?
I’m going to throw up a spoiler alert here because I want to touch on the ending.
Ok, so let’s talk about the ending. I’ll at least partially exclude the fact that the angel was pretty obvious CGI – I guess an ethereal angel could indeed have a different look then everyone else around it. But the whole idea of her just learning to forgive and the angel being cool with that? I guess it’s a good moral – forgiveness is great – but it did feel like a bit of a letdown after watching the build-up for all this time. Particularly when the evil never really gets shown in any real way outside of some zombie-like creatures. I just felt like the directors could have done a lot more with this moment, and it comes off as feeling like they ran out of ideas or budget and just needed it to end.
So in the end, I thought like A Dark Song was pretty good, but the ending left me wanting quite a bit. Because of that, I’m giving it a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A fun twist on the normal exorcism story, with some real fear built in.
Teenagers and parents will almost always have times where they don’t get along. But sometimes those fights run much deeper. Pyewacket takes the typical teenage tantrum – “I hate you and wish you were dead!” and gives it a fresh breath, with a bit of an occult twist.
Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is just trying to survive her life without her father after his passing. So is her mother, played by Laurie Holden (of The Walking Dead). But whereas her mother has decided that a change in scenery to the mountains would be most effective, Leah has embraced a gothic look as well as an interest in the occult. This has increased the friction between mother and daughter, and leads to the ultimate breaking point – a fight that pushes Leah to drastic action. She decides to call forth Pyewacket, a demon, in order to hunt her mother.
Some of the most effective (not necessarily the best) scenes in this movie happen between Muñoz and Holden. They really embrace the roles and show how devastating the loss of a balancing parent in a relationship can be. Holden is especially effective, alternating verbal barbs filled with venom and intense motherly care throughout the movie. But despite many writers focusing on this as the best point of the movie, I think at times they rush the scenes and don’t quite give them the room to stretch that they need.
I honestly think the best scene in the movie is Leah’s original ritual. It’s shot in an extremely personal manner, allowing young Muñoz to fill the frame. It also mixes things up, and we don’t immediate see a monster. I like that quite a bit, because it leads to a lot of good ambiguity later on in the film. The build up to the final act, is solid.
The film has some downsides though. It takes a bit to get going, which serves a purpose (building up the mother daughter relationship to its current point) but doesn’t help the speed. I also thought there was a bit too much with the “Occult Expert”. It just serves as an exposition dump a couple different times, and gives Leah a false light in the darkness. I would have preferred her to go it alone and learn to deal with her own problems. After all, isn’t that what growing up and moving away from your parents is?
That being said, Pyewacket is still an effective horror film. I think it’s a great fit into the family horror genre that seems so prolific right now, and I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"