Room 237 (4.25/5):
Over the last five years, I’ve learned to appreciate the meticulous mind of Stanley Kubrick. His films are dense puzzles, with every single piece bearing some level of significance. Whether it’s the use of a prop placed in the background or a color consuming the foreground, what appears in the frame is a calculated move by Kubrick. Knowing Kubrick’s complete and utter control in his films, it’s easy to understand why people have become obsessed with understanding his intent behind every miniscule detail. One of the more significant examples of Kubrick’s profound grasp on film fanatics is The Shining, an invasive and overpowering horror film that dishearteningly twirls in the bowels of madness. Even though it’s one of his more linear films, Kubrick infuses The Shining with enough abstract imagery and symbolism to attract overly aggressive film mavens and conspiracy theorists alike. Those seeking a level of truth from The Shining are the subject of Rodney Ascher’s wildly amusing documentary Room 237, which garners its name from one of the film’s most famous and terrifying settings. The point of Room 237 is this: films, especially the work of Kubrick, are inherently personal in nature, and we actively form their worth and meaning off our own experiences.
Not entirely an earth shattering assessment, but it’s absolutely enjoyable to hear six individuals disassemble The Shining and reconstruct it based off their own research and personal prism. Through the use of voice over narration juxtaposed against scenes from The Shining, each of the film’s theorists is given an opportunity to breakdown the evidence they’ve assembled over the years. In many ways Kubrick’s horror masterpiece warps into a kindred spirit of the infamous Zapruder film. A handful of the theories bandied about are quite interesting. For instance, one of the film’s subjects asserts that The Shining is actually Kubrick’s indirect attempt to make a film about the Holocaust, while another exclaims it’s thematically hinting at America’s hand in the destruction of Native Americans. These theories, when coupled with Ascher providing evidential playback, bring new life to a thirty year old film, as well as its secluded director. But, for every interesting piece of evidence that percolates, there are a handful of unbelievably idiotic assertions about Kubrick’s intentions. One such instance, which revolves around a theorist misappropriating the shape of a skier on a poster, had me rolling my eyes and muttering “bullshit.” Regardless of how insane some of his subjects sound, Rodney Ascher has crafted a wholly enjoyable documentary that captures the magic of Kubrick’s films, as well as the lunacy that emanates from a film about madness.
Evil Dead (3.75/5):
After the release of last year’s Cabin in the Woods, a film that violently and hilariously dismantled the horror genre, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake appeared as if it was late to the party. Not only is it a remake of Sam Raimi’s seminal cult horror classic, but it’s about a group of five friends who release an evil entity while taking refuge in the woods, which is exactly the premise Cabin in the Woods deliciously lampooned. So, Evil Dead doesn’t entirely feel fresh from the outset, but man is it a good time. Per usual, I don’t particularly care how this remake stacks up against the source material that gave it life. I’ll let everyone else handle the inevitable comparison. What matters to me is how the film stands alone on its own merit. As I mentioned earlier, this incarnation of Evil Dead revolves around a group of friends who shack up at a cabin to help one of their own, Mia (Jane Levy), kick an unsightly heroin habit. Surprisingly enough, the delusions and pain from heroin withdrawal end up being a legitimate reason for the characters refusing to leave the woods despite of Mia’s hell-bent pleas. Of course, there is a level of stupidity presented when one of the film’s characters, in spite of hellacious warnings etched in blood, reads from an enchanted book that channels a demon. But who hasn’t done that?
Actually, the screenplay makes this questionable character suffer a lot, which becomes a nice running gag, in the most twisted way possible. And twisted is probably the best word to associate with Alvarez’s Evil Dead. It’s immaculately shot, with Alvarez lending a sickening beauty to the many scenes featuring physical desecration and blood geysers. Yet, what really sets Evil Dead apart from most horror films is that it knows what it is and it gleefully plays with the audience. From framing tools of destruction early on (e.g. a nail gun or an electric meat carver) to demonic possessions that shift from soft angelic voices to scratchy demonic screeches, Evil Dead taunts us with vicious possibilities. Now, I’ll readily admit that Evil Dead isn’t completely invested in scaring the audience any more than it’s keen on churning our stomach with grotesque deaths. But Alvarez delivers a film that violently runs rampant, and tests our wills in the process. Evil Dead may not reinvent the wheel, nor may it serve any purpose outside of delivering blood laden thrills, but it delivers on the hypertension it promises.