🎬 #3 The Film That Terrified Kubrick
Hi there from a cold and hazy London. Possibly inspired by the dark, mist-filled, streets of the capital come this week's two films. Neither you'd describe as horror, and neither has any of the visual tropes associated with the genre [like darkness or mist] but both linger with you more effectively than most modern 'horror' films.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: SPOORLOOS [THE VANISHING]
1988 Dir George Sluizer
There are lots of incredible moments in this film that revolves around the disappearance of a woman and her boyfriend's obsessive quest to find out what happened to her. One of the most enduring in my mind is the character and performance of the 'antagonist.' He's more charming, likeable and charismatic than the protagonists. In fact, ironically, most of the levity comes from scenes involving him. The structure also simultaneously reveals information too early but still manages to build tension, which shouldn't really be possible. For this and many other reasons, when I first saw the film I told everyone to watch it immediately even if they couldn't care less.
Sluizer remade the film in American in 1993 as The Vanishing, but this version was a critical flop compared with the original. Most, if not all of the original film, takes place during the day in urban/pastoral populated environments. Yet Sluizer manages to create a sense of tragic, unsettling inevitability - like a horrible premonition you can't shake. And he does so without so much as a trembling violin note or any of the other suitcase-filling cliches filmmakers resort to. It's the structural sense of procedure that gives the compulsion fuelled tragedy a sense of indifference. Like some kind of sterile thought experiment that's been methodically planned out. Kubrick himself called Sluizer to tell him it was the most terrifying film he'd ever seen. Seems like indifference and compulsion are the two sides of true horror. This film is firmly in my top 10.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 47 minutes of my precious life watching this? George Sluizer crafts a film that leaves a lasting impression on you, from a simple story of a missing woman and the man compelled to find her, to the funniest, most charming, most unlikely psychopath you've ever met.
Trailer: Don't search for it, go in cold.
*Available for a small rental fee on YouTube, Apple TV, Sky and Google Play*
Fact: The film was the Netherland's Best Foreign Language film submission to the Oscars that year but was dismissed for having too much French dialogue.
FILM TWO: PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK
1975 Dir Peter Weir
Peter Weir is one of those directors who has never made a bad film. This entry in his filmography is possibly one of his most elusive to describe. It's based on a book just as Spoorloos is and like the film above, revolves around the disappearance of young women. But unlike Spoorloos it's not just one young woman but multiple who vanish in broad daylight, during a school trip in 1900.
Like Spoorloos, Weir uses none of the tricks associated with the horror genre but still manages to create a dense atmosphere of dreadful inevitability. One that is totally incongruent with Russell Boyd's meditative, almost painterly framing of the Australian countryside. If you do watch this film you'll probably be wondering what I'm talking about for the first 20 minutes - which consists of an idyllic set-up to the young women's boarding school. But Weir soon adds another dimension to these scenes with stark long shots of Hanging Rock. The mysterious rock formation that is the destination of the school trip and inevitable setting of the mystery. Subtle dialogue elements, create a sense of unease leading up to the location, infusing it with an almost otherworldly force that the girls were destined to encounter. Like Spoorloos, the duelling sides of indifference generated by the presence of a static rock formation hundreds of millions of years old, and the compulsions of teenage girls merge to create a film that defies definition. Don't expect answers, only expect to be carrying this film with you long after its runtime has gone. I watched this alone one hot summer's day during lockdown and was looking over my shoulder for the rest of the night. Not really knowing what I was expecting to see. It's hard enough to make an audience feel something but to have them take a feeling with them they can't explain, even to themselves, that is truly impressive filmmaking.
TL;DR why should I spend exactly 1 hour 55 mins of my precious life watching this? One of the most haunting films I've ever seen. Let Peter Weir take you deep into the crevices of Hanging Rock, as horrific inevitability closes in all around us in broad, gorgeous daylight.
Trailer: Don't watch it, go in cold.
*Available on BFI Player*
Fact: Damon Lindelof [Lost] sighted the film as an influence on the second season of the underwatched 'Leftovers.' As a bonus, there is a great quote from Vincent Canby when he wrote about the film for The New York Times. It sums up both films perfectly. "Such horror is unspeakable not because it is gruesome but because it remains outside the realm of things that can be easily defined or explained in conventional ways."