Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: Amer

Absurdly, considering my devotion to horror cinema, I allowed the recent Hello Darkness festival of horror film that played at the Russell here in ol’ Millsanboon town. I do have an excuse. I got busy with a few projects because my most recent relationship sat quietly deflating in a corner. Actually, that’s no excuse at all, what better means to look the other way from this then with some film-induced survival reactions in the safety of a cinema filled with strangers? A horror-led recovery. Anyway I missed most of it which is a pity as there were a few things in there that I hadn’t seen and wanted to. So when I checked my backlog of e-pidgeons and saw again a suggestion by a Shadows regular to sample some of these screeny wares. So, I made it to Amer, the finale.

All I knew was that this film was heavily influenced by the giallo thrillers made in Italy from the 60s to the 80s, that it had very little dialogue and had a whammio ending. Just the ticket, I thought aloud and took a tram into town.

We start in a troubled house. A little girl runs from the sound of her parents arguing. She takes refuge in her room but a black humanoid shape rises from behind the bed. Before her mother can come in and save her, the shape slinks through a side door. A grandfatherly corpse lies dressed on a bed, the face fixed in a bitter expression. The girl sees the bewildering spectacle of her parents having vigorous huffing sex and passes out. Abandon all hope all ye who enter here expecting anymore dialogue or narrative cohesion.

She’s now an achingly beautiful teen and stands at the edge of a cliff overlooking a rich blue ocean. Her mother walks her along a dirt road to some inappropriately bold music. Her mother gets her hair done and leaves her daughter in a shop where a soccerball flinging boy challenges her to a … something contest. Soon after, she’s back at the cliff eyeing off and being eyed by a gang of mediteraneo bikies. Her mother drags her away in admonition.

Now an adult, she gets off a tram and takes a taxi to her childhood home, now in ruins, and is stalked by a leatherclad killer who favours a straight razor for a weapon. Twisty style ending.

Well it would be twisty except that really there’s no plot. The opening sequence suggests there will be a story emerging from the traumatic scenes the girl has witnessed. But then this film is not about plot and lets you know that quickly and flamboyantly. Much of the screen time is taken up with extreme close-ups, I mean veins in the white of the eye close-ups. Exchanges of stares, wide glaring fear, shrewd suspicion, you name it. Eyes loom large which should clue any echt giallo fan in to what’s happening here. Not enough? Well, how about a fetishistic insistence on the girl’s crotch real estate as it is lovingly caressed by the seabreeze and her own tiny pink dress. Want erect nipples? Done! Lastly and most ghastly you get an extended torture sequence involving exposed body parts and a cut-throat razor with some garooooosome payoffs. Fans of obscure Italian movies, do these things ring bells?

Well, let’s start with the first sequence which is influenced on a scale of one to one by Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Suspiria, right down to the luminous red and blue light that doesn’t make any digetic sense, it just looks good. Ok, it looks great. The music is the kind of harpsichord and picked bass guitar and growling synthesiser with occasional vocal in Venusian that remains one of the true pleasures of the giallo. In fact, it sounds entirely lifted from 60s and 70s originals. The bikies and soccerboy by the sea could be from anything of the golden era o’ gialli and the razor torture is straight as a die out of Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper.

These refs barely scratch the surface and for awhile I thought I was looking at an expert but pointless celebration of the genre. Then I think I got it. Giallo films are often murder mysteries with some genuine intrigue, atmospherics, high suspense and endurance-testing violence. They are also full of plot holes the size of Italy.

Their least successful moments occur when characters on screen attempt to explain what’s going on. The one in Suspiria where witches are explained by not one but two experts goes on forever and ruins the essential element of the film: nightmare logic. Suspiria’s power lies in action that is so highly irrational and yet so churningly violent that the viewer has no time to conceptually control it. That’s why nightmares are scary, our perception that the dream’s elements are controlling us. Great horror cinema does this every time. In fact the closer you get to reason in a horror movie the further you get from its thrills. 

Well, that’s what Amer is, just the good bits, the high style, the edible colour, the guilty pleasure sleaze, the extraordinary power of a bludgeoning ocular close-up on a cinemascope screen, the sensuality of looks and its proximity to violence, the breath-holding confrontation with extreme cruelty, the trauma of the primal scene, etc etc etc. You want an old time movie? You want plot? You want character motivation and through-lines? Make ‘em up. Look, you’ve got a gigantic elaborate feast of impactful moments rendered emotively despite a near complete absence of context. What can YOU make of it? Amer is a good film because it adds to the bag of tricks. It’s good because it doesn’t just invoke the old it calls to its audience to use their imaginations it does so itself with imagination. Amer is a baroque, cineweariness-killing DIY kit and I'm glad I bought one.

No comments:

Post a Comment