“Alright, that’s enough jabbering. I reckon it’s about high time we cut to the chase and give the people what they want to see.”
Ti West’s horror flick set in 1979 is more than just a throwback — he expertly recreates the visual identity of early slashers, using it is as a tonal palette even as he subverts many of their clichés. For example, the premise of a group of young filmmakers travelling to a remote town to make an adult movie provides a justification for the requisite titillation whilst also undermining the traditional rules linking promiscuity and survival in exploitation flicks. There is no mystery to solve in the killer’s identity since there are so few people on the isolated property and, although X raises the topic of youth and aging, it has little to say beyond the jealousy that gulf invokes. Typically, self-aware horror films swiftly descend into parody but West avoids this, choosing to maintain the enjoyably sinister atmosphere by delivering on gory scares he sets up. The closest analogue is Robert Rodriguez’s modernised yet reverant approach to grindhouse movies in Planet Terror. Fans of the genre will enjoy the period detail — particularly in distinct visual style of the film-within-a-film — but it’s unlikely to appeal to those without an interest in either slashers or filmmaking (and ideally both).
“Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in hell!”
Fittingly nominated for QuickView #300, Zack Snyder’s sophmore feature marked the first of many comicbook-inspired movies and remains arguably his best. 300 is less a film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel than a translation — Snyder would develop a range of visual techniques to emulate the source material, including its dichromatic palette of red and gold, shot almost entirely on digital backlot with only two practical sets. Even Snyder’s trademark overuse of slow-motion seems fitting here, where he is literally recreating panels of Miller’s art. Although based on the Battle of Thermopylae, this is overtly fantasy rather than history, narrated by a Spartan soldier with the purpose of mythologising events. This explains the one-sided perspective that garnered criticism for painting the Persians as barbaric mystics (often monstrously disfigured) whilst the Greeks are styled as the discliplined defenders of rationality and freedom (conveniently ignoring that Sparta was built upon a slave class that is never shown). The cast is filled with character actors able to bring stage skills to empty digital backlot sets; though many are now household names, most were not at the time immediately recognisable faces. 300‘s focus is not the reality of war but a pulse-pounding hypermasculine depiction of battle, cartoonish crimson sprays barely slowing its improbably muscular heroes, who are clad in little more than loincloths, capes, and more underlying homoeroticism than a Top Gun volleyball game. Like much of Zack Snyder’s work, 300 is undeniably style over substance but that is less of an issue here, where the source material was likewise unburdened by depth. When there is this much style, deployed creatively in ways we had never seen before, that can be satisfying in itself.
“Nothing’s ever just a conversation with you, John.”
John Wick: Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2ended, with John excommunicated from the cult-like order of assassins and a $14 million bounty placed on his head. Like its predecessor, the approach is very much more of the same brutal action, though it fixes a few flaws with fights lit more brightly and easier to follow. Parabellum (literally “prepare for war”) briefly moves the action to the middle east — with heavy overtones of the Assassin’s Creed franchise — but this diversion serves to confuse rather than expand the High Table mythos, becoming ultimately redundant as Wick returns to New York. A welcome change is the number of prominent female roles, Halle Berry proving her action chops in a fight I dubbed “revenge of the dogs”. John Wick‘s strength is a po-faced delivery whilst not taking itself seriously (“What do you need?” / “Guns, lots of guns”, says Keanu Reeves, repeating his line from The Matrix two decades earlier). This is a film in which he can ride a horse through the streets of New York whilst battling bikers. Despite this, a sense of familiar repetition is creeping into the series suggesting that we are on the verge of diminishing returns.
“You know those movies where the picture just starts to slow down… and melt? Then catch fire? Well, that’s Berlin.”
Outside of superheroes, Hollywood has struggled to provide us with compelling female-led action movies. Atomic Blonde bucks the trend, though ironically Charlize Theron’s dedicated performance crafts a coldly determined character with whom audiences may struggle to empathise. A Cold War spy thriller with graphic novel roots, the script retains the unusual ability to surprise. Told in flashbacks through an adversarial debriefing, we know that what we are shown may not be the whole truth. James McAvoy’s nihilistic, brazenly duplicitous turn as a deep cover agent is a particular highlight. 1989 Berlin is shot in cool blues infused with splashes of neon colour — it’s reminiscent of John Wick (which Leitch co-directed). Everything is familiar then, including the action (a brutal extended fight in a stairwell stands out), but this strange blend of Le Carré and John Wick is presented with a stylish boldness that demands attention.
Like the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, Deadpool retains his confident swagger but has lost some of his disruptive freshness. The humour remains edgy and wonderfully delivered, and the film maintains its ability to surprise, despite straining with the attempt to tell a larger story. Domino is a fantastic addition and her “lucky” superpower allows for the most creative action sequences. In some ways the film serves as an argument against Disney’s acquisition of Fox, so that Deadpool can take equal potshots at DC and the MCU from the sidelines. Deadpool 2 also makes far better use of a post-credits sequence than Marvel has managed of late.