🎬 #105 Breaking Tradition.
In honour of this week’s pick, I'm breaking my own rules again and including not two films but one, 10 episode series. The wildest, most indescribable thing I’ve seen in a long time, in the best possible way.
2023 Creators Nathan Fielder and Benny Sadie
[Episode length varies ~ up to 1 hr 10 mins]
There are broadly two ways I get super excited when I watch something.
1. A great story well told. 2. When the makers try something that feels really bold, something that feels fresh, on a razor blade - like it could be a failure.
The Curse is very much the second one, not that it's not great storytelling, but because it fits into the ‘bold’ category - even though it doesn’t really fit any category at all. I love Nolan’s quote about 2001…
“It's not that it breaks all the rules. It's a film that doesn't acknowledge that there are any rules. It's the punk rock of movies.”
The Curse is the punk rock of TV shows. I love Nathan Fielder’s other work, from Nathan For You to The Rehearsal - which is incredible. And with The Curse and his partnership with Benny Safdie, it’s a perfect blend of his knack for engineering amazing moments involving real people and places, his absurdist, brilliantly awkward vibe and more ‘traditional’ narrative storytelling. It’s so cool to see Fielder helm the majority of the episodes. It’s really impressive to see how exact framing and a very strong visual style applies to his method of conjuring up moments that feel real.
Another really impressive thing is how natural all the dialogue feels. To the point were when you’re watching you’re thinking, that has to have been improvised. But during a Q&A with Nolan, the pair admitted the majority of the show was tightly scripted. It’s enviable how ‘real’ it all feels. This only adds to the wit, the weirdness and the brutally awkward exchanges the couple have as outsiders coming into a new town.
If you took the IMDB description of the the show at face value - it sounds like something neither of the creators would be involved in, and it doesn’t do the show justice.
A newlywed couple struggle to make their vision for eco-living a reality in a small New Mexico town.
But this is also kind of the genius of it - it’s a show within a show. This is the description of the show they’re making in the show, titled - Fliplanthropy. A cheesy HGTV show about making eco-houses in a town in New Mexico while also benefitting the marginalised community there. The style of which is overly lit, highly saturated colours, polished to fake perfection. Contrast that with The Curse segments - shot on long lenses, high grain, dark, contrasty - they couldn’t be any more opposite. Because of the use of long lenses it almost feels like there’s another crew there, making another show — a show that the cast don’t know they’re a part of.
The sense of unease and building dread is emphasised through this visual approach - but also through the perfect score. It's a dread that is there from the off, and you’re constantly waiting for something terrifying to happen - something uncanny, off, weird, disturbing. It’s like watching a video of elastic bands being stretched by machines - how far can they be pulled before they break. You can’t look away, even though you know what’s going to happen, you just don’t know when it’s going to happen. The only touch points that come to mind for me, aside from the filmmaker’s own past work is the self-referential and the plausibility of the supernatural in a Bret Easton Ellis novel.
This is total palette cleanser filmmaking. A piece that doesn’t acknowledge anything that came before. If you want to feel refreshed and inspired that newness is out there. Go and check it out right now if you haven’t already and it’s best enjoyed without reading anything about the plot.
This teaser trailer captures the tone the best for me without giving anything away.
TL;DR Safdie and Fielder’s The Curse is outrageous storytelling at its weirdest, funniest, awkwardest, darkest.
*Available on Paramount Plus and Showtime in the US and on the Paramount Plus channel on Amazon in the UK - there’s a week’s free trial right now.
Fact: The mirrored exteriors on the houses was a last minute decision by the team - so they ended up building frames around actual homes to make the effect on a tighter budget.
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