Friday, 31 July 2009

The Countess

Ambling on ...

In the 17th Century, the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Julie Delpy) and her husband, General Ferenc Nadasdy (Jack Berglund), are regarded as one of the most powerful couples in Hungary. Soon after Nadasdy's death, Elizabeth begins a passionate relationship with Istvan Thurzo (Daniel Bruhl), who is nearly 20 years her junior. When Istvan leaves her, she believes it is because of her age. This ultimately leads to her believing that the blood of virgin girls can help her remain youthful, and Elizabeth starts a mysterious killing spree to satisfy her vanity.

The issue surrounding Elizabeth Bathory makes for an interesting narrative in the cinematic format. The story is told in a rather linear fashion, beginning with Elizabeth as a child and how politics deemed who she should marry in her older age. Politics is perhaps the best dealt with theme in the film: while not shown in a refreshing manner, politics still has an overriding importance into understanding how arranged marriages were so important for families in regards to gaining new ties and allies and, more importantly, how these marriages ultimately develop characters in order to enrich the story. Yet it is disappointing that nothing helps strengthen the plot: the life of Elizabeth Bathory is open to much speculation with there being a debate as to whether she really is the 'Blood Countess' or whether she was trapped in a political conspiracy. But none of this is even questioned until the very end of the story, but by then it is so incredibly obvious that the filmmakers have wanted to portray Elizabeth as a cold-hearted murderer, that the alternate paradigm briefly introduced serves little purpose. Another problem with the narrative is how the film's underlying philosophy, as emphasized by a voice over from Istvan at the very start of the film, is in conflict with the film's main story. Istvan believes that the true story of Elizabeth was never revealed but as shown from the films intention, it clearly is.

There is a reasonably strong cast in the film but it never shows. Both Delpy and Bruhl lack emotion and their portrayed relationship is not any better. In Delpy's defence it can be argued that her character lacked any real emotion but nevertheless, there is nothing really compelling about the performance. William Hurt features at points throughout the film but he rarely makes much of an impact. The best of the lot is Annamaria Marcina who feels more believable then her co-stars, and does a good job as a supporting actress.

Julie Delpy does shine in her role as director with the film being, for the most part, eloquently shot. There are some interesting scenes of symbolism with the heightened ominous atmosphere of the film starting off early and is carried along until the end. Considering the subject matter, the film is neither as gory or bloody as you would expect, but the acts of cruelness still have a haunting presence to them, and Delpy must be congratulated for this. Likewise the musical score appears to compliment the film though is forgettable by the end, and the costume design has a real sense of reality to them though they lack extravagance as shown in other similar period films.

Sex is implied with upper female nudity appearing at times in the first half of the narrative. Language is almost unheard of but violence is shown in various manners: there is some decapitation, and piercing of skin from sharp items. None of the violence is lingered upon but their buildup has a threatening quality to them; blood does appear throughout.

The Countess is a surprisingly average film with a good sense of technical techniques being weighed down by some weak showcases of acting and a confused directional narrative. The beginning attempts to setup the film as a mystery thriller, something to get audiences debating the accuracy of events, but ultimately the film is so conclusive with what it wants audiences to believe that the film gets muddled up in its own creative process. It is an interesting movie with an exciting subject at its helm, but it is nonetheless a flawed film that just never gets going.


Screen date: 29 July 2009
Release date: N/A (Durban International Film Festival 2009)

Friday, 17 July 2009

Surviving Evil

Decent horror flick deserving of better ...

A TV documentary crew, responsible for a wide selection of programmes on surviving in different terrains around the world, attempt their latest shoot on a remote jungle island in the Philippines. While filming, the crew come across some strange sightings unknown that the island is home to the bloodthirsty Aswang.

From the opening credits it is evident that Surviving Evil was filmed on a low budget and very little is done to hide this fact, however the film does get slightly in quality after the first few minutes. The story itself is nothing new and is reminiscent of the Hills have Eyes 2 combined with Cannibal Holocaust, though it never gets near as gory as either. There are a couple of subplots, one of which helps the main plot along, but they have very little impact on the story as a whole and serve more to add depth to the characters and their relations with one another. Though even this is a lost cause with there not being enough screen time for true character interaction to occur. The plot is ultimately thin but with the workable pace and real intent on scaring the audience, it is never as glaring a problem as it could be.

The acting side of things is fairly competent. While Billy Zane, Colin Moss and Natalie Mendoza take up the bulk of acting, the other actors persevere in making as much of the script as possible. Still this doesn't stop some weak acting at times but on a whole the cast are reasonable and definitely make up for the films other shortcomings.

The biggest of which happens to be the cinematography. Director Terence Daw is unfortunately no professional having directed only television series many years ago. He attempts to do justice to the locales but to little effect with little effort going into wide or panning shots. Still he is able to gt the ferocity and quick tension of the violent attacks well enough without having to resort to full on bloody violence gore. His build up to the climax is fairly paced and the barrage attack with occurs to the crew makes for an exciting watch.

There is no sex or nudity though violence and language are constant throughout. Violence is bloody but most gore is shown from corpses with the horrors sequences raining from quick cuts to darkened views on the action. Language variety is low though the F-word is muttered a good few times, mostly in bunches.

There is a peculiar likability to Surviving Evil even when it is clearly far from being the best in its genre. And perhaps this is due to an acting ensemble that really try to make more of the film then there should be. When you factor in some fairly entertaining horror moments, even though they're mild by modern comparisons, you have a film that deserved a more experienced director and more money for production. It is a pity that the film is getting little in terms of publicity and this is most likely due to the film being half produced by a South African company. If the chance arises you should give Surviving Evil a chance: it's not great but you may be pleasantly surprised.


Screen date: 17 July 2009
Release date: 10 July 2009