White Bird in a Blizzard Review – Sex and the Suburbs

Director: Gregg Araki

Writers: Gregg Araki (screenplay), Laura Kasischke (novel)

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez

Release date: October 24th, 2014

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 91 minutes



Best part: Shailene Woodley.

Worst part: Shiloh Fernandez.

Hollywood, over the past few years, has waged war against optimism, relationships and marriage. In seeking to connect with modern/cynical audiences, big-budget cinema seemingly exists to criticize these well-intentioned, life-altering decisions. According to Tinseltown, life post-proposal is nothing but broken promises and empty souls longing for the “till death do us part” scenario to become reality. Following up Gone Girl and Men, Women & Children, White Bird in a Blizzard strives to put the final nail in the coffin.

Shailene Woodley & Shiloh Fernandez.

Shailene Woodley & Shiloh Fernandez.

In all honesty, despite seeing the positives of marriage, this socially recognised union is not my thing. In fact, White Bird in a Blizzard could spark many wide-ranging viewpoints about marriage, adolescence, and life. The movie, though intent on forming its own analysis, longs for multiple discussions about its story, themes, and characters. Writer/director Gregg Araki (Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin) has studied, and adapted to, this film/film-goer interaction throughout his career. So, does his latest feature stand up to criticism? As it turns out, White Bird in a Blizzard fits comfortably into his controversial filmography. The movie crafts itself around 1980s suburban America’s pros and cons. Its story follows promiscuous high school graduate Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley). Preparing herself for a degree at Berkeley, the youngster – despite her loving family and friends’ support – feels cut off from the rest of the world. Aided by her confident father Brock (Christopher Meloni) and detestable mother Eve (Eva Green), Kat’s life resembles that of your average adolescent. However, after Eve’s mysterious disappearance, Kat must pull herself back from the brink whilst asking the most important question of all: What happened to mum?

Christopher Meloni & Eva Green.

Christopher Meloni & Eva Green.

Based on Laura Kasischke’s best-selling novel, White Bird in a Blizzard takes on several genres and messages within its hurried 91-minute run-time. Exploring out-there stories and characters, Araki’s on-set intentions and off-set demeanour define him as one of American cinema’s most unusual auteur filmmakers. Known for his New Queer Cinema movement entries, he – similarly to Gus Van Sant – isn’t afraid of proclaiming his sexual orientation and significant viewpoints. Faced with fearsome opposition, his movies seek to destroy prejudice, conflict, and status quo. His latest effort, discussing societal norms and the studio system, has a helluva lot on its mind. In fact, like previous features, White Bird in a Blizzard depicts horrific events with subtlety, verve, and intelligence. Sticking to Araki’s independent roots, the narrative wears the veil of American Beauty whilst hiding many masochistic undertones. Harking back to Sam Mendes and Todd Solondz’ earlier works, this drama-thriller depicts a love-is-a-lie version of middle-class existence. Tearing his story-threads and characters apart, each sickening twist and turn further enlarge the central conflict’s cracks, tears, and erosion. Kat, pointing out her family and friend’s overt pretentiousness and transparency, becomes the knife slicing through society’s grand illusions. Our existentially frazzled lead, despite her boyfriend/neighbour Phil(Shiloh Fernandez)’s nice-guy nature, seeks primarily to destroy his booming reputation. Several scenes – featuring fluffy conversations between her and friends Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) and Mickey (Mike Indelicato) – strive to elevate our ‘protagonist’ above everyone else. 

“The beautiful woman she once was…became a phantom wandering away in a snowstorm.” (Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley), White Bird in a Blizzard).

Woodley, Gabourey Sidibe & Mark Indelicato.

Woodley, Gabourey Sidibe & Mark Indelicato.

Araki, not one for subtlety or objectivity, designed White Bird in a Blizzard to obliterate suburbia. Despite the approachable set-up, the movie thrusts deep-seeded emotions into the spotlight. Commenting on our evolution from 20th-century patio culture to 21st-century liberalism, the narrative revels in its views on feminism, masculinity, class warfare, gender politics, and relationships. Through flashbacks and dream sequences, we see a nightmarish insight into the Connor household. Eve, close to grinding glass into Brock’s dinner, appears stuck in a mind-numbing and lifeless void. Slipping into a booze-and-loose-clothes-addled depression, she leaps from glorified mistress to independent nightmare. Turning the tide throughout, the movie further examines its own disturbed, philosophical recesses. Biting off more than it can chew, it even tackles current young-adult, mystery-thriller, and relationship-drama trends. Crafting a Lovely Bones-esque switch from marriage to mystery, the narrative pokes fun at its whodunnit twists and turns. Whilst seducing Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane), Kat openly calls her actions into question. Picking apart modern literature heroines’ weaknesses, it’s really an indictment against popular entertainment. She even has two good-looking guys fighting over her, outlined by her roommate’s “I’m Team Oliver” comments. In particular, Woodley’s casting illuminates Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars‘ misgivings. However, her sweet-natured performance, out-classing Meloni and co., highlights her immense dramatic talents.

Though Araki’s reach exceeds his grasp, his ambition and style cannot be faulted. Throwing bright colours, comically appealing narration, a kitsch soundtrack, and soap-opera-esque lines across his 11th feature, the writer/director Araki is one of few big-names crafting efforts of lasting effect and whip-smart attitude. White Bird in a Blizzard – thanks to its non-linear structure and self-aware humour – creates a thought-provoking contrast between reality and ‘reel life’.

Verdict: A potent and magnetic mystery-thriller.

Evil Dead Review – Fright Night!

Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas

Release date: April 5th, 2013

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 95 minutes


Best part: The ultra-effective gore.

Worst part: The uninteresting characters.

As of late, the world has become obsessed with director Sam Raimi. Geek girls and boys look up to this man due to his startling talent. Last year, The Amazing Spider-man adhered too closely to Raimi’s original Spider-man film. His most recent directorial effort, Oz the Great and Powerful, proved that he can handle popular material. Now, a remake of his 1981 masterpiece, The Evil Dead, is hitting our screens.

Jane Levy.

Evil Dead may be inferior to Raimi’s horror-comedy classic, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s a sprawling, excessive, and occasionally cloying horror flick. However, if you’ve seen the original, you won’t be surprised by this remake. Mia (Jane Levy) is an angsty young woman struggling to kick a nasty drug addiction. She also feels abandoned and angry after her mother’s death and brother’s self-exile. Her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) calls for an intervention at the family cabin. Three of their friends, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), decide to help. However, this spooky pseudo-rehab clinic soon turns into the perfect setting for the ultimate nightmare. A discovery by Eric awakens something foul in the surrounding woods.

Jessica Lucas.

Back in ‘81, Raimi changed horror cinema with a couple of inventive camera movements and some make up kits. I have to admit, I’m not the biggest horror movie fan. Having seen last year’s stand out horror flick The Cabin in the Woods, I find it difficult to take them seriously. Much like 2011’s The Thing, Evil Dead is a re-imagining that tries too hard to top the original. This version may have its positives, but it spends too much time digging its own grave. I’m still clueless as to whether it’s trying to be its own thing or an homage to the original. There are major story and character elements that have changed, yet it still takes the time to reference the original’s chainsaw, cars, tree rape incidents, and kooky dialogue. Despite my gripes with this version, I had a hell of a time watching it! (to be fair, it may have do with the audience I saw it with). It gripped me from the prologue. It’s a tight, tense, and gruelling first few minutes that also add to this series’ already stellar mythology. This sequence contains the remake’s best ideas. However, the film hurriedly slows down when it switches to the five lead characters. Sub-plots are introduced and dropped without warning and the back-stories are clichéd and forgettable. So why did I like this film as much as I did?

Shiloh Fernandez.

It has to do with the film’s technical elements. Director Fede Alvarez is obviously passionate about both the Evil Dead trilogy and horror genre logistics. Raimi’s version is a visceral and comedic ‘bottle’ film. Whilst lacking Raimi’s imaginative touch, Alvarez’s work here is highly commendable. After the evil book(Naturom Demonto)’s introduction, the tension and violence drastically increases. He makes a great decision in using practical effects instead of CGI. CGI-based horror never works (2011’s The Thing is a prime example). Here, CGI is used only to touch up vital sequences. Startlingly original and inventive; the gore creates a disturbing and sensory experience. Sharp objects, including Stanley knives, syringes, and machetes, all have their destructive and disgusting purposes. Every stab, amputation, gun shot, and slice will leave a lasting impression on you. Blood squirts and splatters cover the screen at nearly every turn. The stand out moments include tongues being sliced in half and arms being severed with electric carving knifes. Somehow, the practical effects make these gratuitous and gruesome events seem tangible. Alvarez emulates Raimi’s inventive cinematography and production design. Here, the camera barely stops moving. It ducks and weaves through every crevasse of the decaying cabin. The stylistic flourishes ascend in quality and quantity; building to the gruelling and wince-inducing final third. The sound design is also top notch. Whilst never becoming over the top, the sound effects elevate many of the film’s best jump scares.

I just don’t want to become the Devil’s bitch.” (Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Evil Dead).

The demons at bay.

Raimi’s original trilogy has one powerful ingredient that elevates it above other influential horror franchises – Bruce Campbell. The expressive and charismatic actor, along with Raimi’s dark sense of humour, brought life to a low-budget trilogy containing simple stories and visceral thrills. This straight-faced remake lacks the original trilogy’s charismatic characters. The five lead characters here lack chemistry and quickly become unlikeable. None of them are anywhere near as intriguing or beguiling as Campbell’s character Ash. Once the blood-curdling theatrics begin, the character development stops. The acting is also hit and miss. Levy gives it her all as the psychologically-damaged lead character. Alvarez makes another compelling choice in telling this story from the drug addict’s perspective. Mia is forced into some uncomfortable and slimy situations; depicting the darkest sides of her physical and mental trauma. Playing both a sweet girl and a writhing demon, Levy’s immense talent shines through in every scene. Pucci also stands out, becoming both a charming comic relief and human knife block. Fernandez is as wooden as the notorious cabin. It doesn’t help that his character makes some painfully stupid decisions.

Despite its flaws, Evil Dead is a fun and exhilarating experience. The gore is startlingly effective and the atmosphere is gripping up until the film’s final frame. Raimi’s original Evil Dead films are difficult to emulate, let alone top. Alvarez smartly focuses on many of the original’s most creative and alluring elements.

Verdict: A fun and ultra-violent horror flick.