Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives PosterDirector: Nicolas Winding Refn

Release Date: July 19th, 2013 (US limited); August 2nd, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Crime; Drama; Thriller

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas

When Gareth Evans’ The Raid hit cinemas a few years ago, the film brought with it an urgent sense of bludgeoning violence and hard-hitting combat. Unflinching and at times eye-scrunching, The Raid was also heralded as a bloody masterstroke. The fights were astoundingly well choreographed and, though it wasn’t the most prominent element, the story meant something. Rightly, Evans’ film felt the accommodating brunt of financial and critical adulation, ushering forth a sequel.

Only God Forgives is the antithesis of all things great about The Raid. It fails to yield any semblance of narrative, instead opting to parade a bunch of hateful characters throughout a maze of disorientating sequences. And it is brutal, gratuitously so. The unsubstantiated violence is the worst part.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs a Muay Thai club in Bangkok, but uses it as a veil to cover his successful drug smuggling business. After his brother is savagely murdered, Julian finds himself caught up in a storm of hate and vengeance. His spiteful mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), having made the trip to Thailand on the back of her son’s death, orders Julian to seek out his brother’s killer and attain revenge, a demand the American expatriate isn’t too overjoyed about.

Unlike in his previous disparately blood-fuelled outings Valhalla Rising and Drive, director Nicolas Winding Refn follows a half-fulfilled mantra here; one that pits grisly style over any form of substance other than the red stuff. The chain of grotesqueness begins almost before the opening credits, as we see murder compensate for more murder. Whereas the likes of both Valhalla Rising and Drive relayed a method to their differing levels of violent outburst — a curious soul and a pulsating beat, respectively — Only God Forgives squanders any opportunity to inject a sense of purpose. Essentially, it is violence for the sake of violence. There is no prevailing message. At one point Kristin Scott Thomas’ character despicably murmurs, “I’m sure he had his reasons,” when she catches wind of a particularly awful revelation. I’m sure Refn has his reasons too, but they are few and far between here.

When the film is not painfully boring it is an uncomfortable watch for all the wrong reasons — certainly, it’s not distressing in an adrenaline-driven way. This is partially due to the uncompromising and baseless brutalities on show, but it is also down to the palette of characters present before us. Either we hate them — and we hate most of them — or they are treated woefully. The females either represent a gaping hole searing through the heart of humanity (in the case of Crystal), or they’re token prostitutes (in the case of everyone else). Refn is painting just one picture that seeks to represent just one slice of humankind, which is fine. But must that picture really be as degrading to women as this is?

The guys aren’t let off lightly either. Ryan Gosling plays Julian, perhaps the least reprehensible of the lot. He has something of a moral backbone, one that stops short of unjust killing. (We’re into that territory, where murder must be separated into unjust and “ach, well maybe he deserved it”). Instead Julian funds his tumultuous conscience by running a drug smuggling operation and, more or less, employing a woman to be his puppet. The character stuffiness does absolutely nothing for Gosling. He’s trapped in a body too similar to the driver in Drive: emotionless, straight-backed but this time without that unorthodox charisma. Despite portraying genuine evil Kristin Scott Thomas is at least afforded the ability to be the only fluid person stuck among a meandering rabble of perceived luminaries. Crystal is a horrible person but she does move in a three-dimensional manner. The rest could pass for robots.

Refn’s customary art house injection arrives by way of the film’s visual appeal. Only God Forgives tries to manifest as a nifty, slick-looking film and cinematographer Larry Smith actually performs commendably. It does look good. Vogue photo shoots also look good, which is exactly what this is — a 90-minute photo op with a Halloween theme set in Thailand. The camera constantly looms around with precision, latching onto folk who are often standing as if giving prior notice; poised, posing and ready for their cover shot. Superficiality reigns supreme, a notion backed up the incessant air of boredom disguised as arty silence.

Aside from the early gore fest, the picture’s opening thirty minutes are bereft of any intrigue, subsequently setting the desolate tone moving forward. Ryan Gosling stares blankly into space. Characters walk so slowly. The violence might be gratuitous, but this carry on is borderline self-indulgent. Even the ambient music — an element Refn often gets spot on — is a little underwhelming. It certainly doesn’t make staring at wallpaper any more interesting. (Though staring at wallpaper might be more interesting than Only God Forgives.)

Nicolas Winding Refn tries to combine the successful strands of two previous outings — Valhalla Rising’s disconcerting climate and Drive’s brute force — yet ends up with the worst possible result. If we are taking this outing as a primary source, attributing Refn with a bleak view of humankind is probably fair. We’re all unmerciful maniacs.

Apparently only God forgives. Well hopefully God won’t see this, else we’ll be living in a world without forgiveness.

Only God Forgives - Kristin Scott Thomas

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Radius-TWC, Lionsgate

V/H/S/2 (2013)

★★

V/H/S/2 PosterDirectors: Various

Release Date: July 12th, 2013 (US limited) October 14th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Thriller

Starring: Various

If 2012’s V/H/S failed to capture the adulation of those brave enough to tough it out, then there’s not much hope for this follow up. A film as uninspired as the title shepherding it suggests, V/H/S/2 has five opportunities to succeed yet, more often than not, chooses to beckon forth eternal disappointment through dullness. In fact, only via the purposeful mind of Gareth Evans does this horror outing really imbue a horrifying tingle. Otherwise, a terminal sense of ‘been there done that’ seeps from the screen, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking the segments in this piece are outtakes from the first film. Having been given a measly 20 minutes or so to showcase their talents, each of the seven directors (some segments are co-directed) ought to have vehemently lived by the mantra that denotes a maximisation of their minutes. Somebody inform the postal service because that memo certainly got lost in the mail.

Sewn together by a frame narrative identical both in execution and content to its visual sibling from the first film, V/H/S/2 relays four other slices of spook, apparently. To begin we see Clinical Trials, a ghost story that haunts viewers solely by way of its surprisingly lacklustre content. Next, A Ride in the Park combines the visceral sheen of The Walking Dead and District 9’s moral pickings, though would bite the proverbial hand off for either’s ingenuity. Safe Haven is the film’s saving grace, and there’s absolutely nothing safe nor graceful about Gareth Evans’ co-offering. Finally, extraterrestrials meet pyjamas in Alien Abduction Slumber Party, but this one just ain’t as fun as it should be.

Undoubtedly, the least effective short is actually the one that plays most often. Tape 49, as it is known, is like that annoying bout of buffering that occasionally interrupts whichever film you’re watching on Netflix, increasingly fuelling frustration upon third, fourth and fifth rearing. Directed by Simon Barrett, the Whac-A-Mole invariably shines a light on Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and his partner Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott), a pair of investigators doing some — wait for it — investigating into the disappearance of a college student. Upon reaching his last know location, a run-down and darkened house, the duo come across a series of televisions emitting static and ushering forth video tape viewing. Implemented as an anchor for the rest of the film, Tape 49 employs the exact same scare (or not) tactics as those seen in V/H/S, rendering the short exhaustingly ineffectual. Already, the remaining segments are at a disadvantage as they first must overcome the lingering cobwebs of Barrett’s effort, before advancing with their own agendas.

Admirably, Safe Haven complies in this regard. Malik (Oka Antara), news crew in tow, enters the residence of an unorthodox Indonesian Cult whose leader, the ‘father’ (Epy Kusnandar), has a severe ethics problem when it comes to the treatment of his followers. Inevitably, events suddenly go awry as the brainwashed group’s true intentions are revealed. Alongside Timo Tjahjanto, director Gareth Evans unleashes a tenacious bloodbath that supersedes every other piece of the V/H/S/2 puzzle. The directorial duo are productive in their utilisation of the found footage concept, generating an uncomfortable air of chaos through the style’s incorporation. Beginning fairly tepidly, you begin to worry that Safe Haven will conform to the generic inequalities of what has come before, but it’s not long before the horror short explodes (literally) into a viscous Jonestown rehash, carrying eerie imagery and brutal immediacy. This is what The Raid would look like if it was a horror movie: violent, relentless and utterly bonkers.

Adam Wingard’s Clinical Trials succeeds in conjuring up ghostly figures, but nothing else. Wingard was the overseer to V/H/S’s version of Tape 49, but his previous experience in the genre does nothing to aid proceedings here. The director also stars in his own segment, as a man who has chosen to take part in a social experiment that sees his sightless eye be replaced by a recording device. Upon returning home post-operation, the man is unceremoniously haunted by a ramshackle bunch of manifestations. Rather than coming across as an efficient stand-alone horror short, Clinical Trials plays more like the opening of Paranormal Activity 6. Though the eye-camera is a neat ploy in avoiding the often impractical continuous use of a handheld camera, there ain’t much to be seen through its lens. Jump-scares don’t frighten, nor do any of the creepily intended figures — conversely, one resembles the twin girls from The Shining, and another is unquestionably the overweight garden zombie from Shaun of the Dead. At one point, a woman shows up requesting a beer. Nope, me neither.

The remaining two slices of horror pie are equally average. Eduardo Sánchez of The Blair Witch Project teams with Gregg Hale and together they offer A Ride in the Park, or, The Walking Dead-lite. After trading dialogue more grotesque in its shallowness than any of the limb crunching about to occur (“You ride that bike more than you ride me”), a cyclist gets bitten by a zombie and subsequently becomes one. There are a couple of noteworthy elements to this piece: the directors’ twist on the found footage point of view, and an intentionally hilarious exchange of glances between a trio of undead — though, this humorous moment does jar with the tone of destitute dread set throughout the entire film. Jason Eisener’s Alien Slumber Party is comparable in delivery to A Ride in the Park, but rather than zombies attacking people, it’s aliens. While the creatures from outer-space do proceed broodingly, the segment is hampered by way of a retreat back to outdated scares through loud trumpeting noises and reddish-green flashing lights.

V/H/S sprung from the horror basements of talented pretenders to Craven, Lynch and Romero’s dark throne, and is a justified piece of cinema in that regard. Despite boasting a similarly talented array of budding directors, V/H/S/2 suffers from an overabundance in sameness. The effort is clearly there and, technically, most segments are delivered with verve. However, only the duo of Evans and Tjahjanto have something substantial to offer. Put simply, it’s not enough.

V/H/S/2 - Safe Haven

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

The brilliant Alex has allowed me to be part of his Foreign Favourites series – check it out! – and I have complied with a review of The Raid: Redemption. Thanks again Alex, have a read if you’re interested!

Alex Raphael

There have been all kinds of benefits to doing the Foreign Favourites series. There has been a fantastic reviews of films, 

the opportunity to show off some fantastic reviewers and even more inspiration to see more great films.  I haven’t been aware of Adam of Consumed by Film for too long but his site is awesome. Detailed film reviews, TV features, topical film commentary and his quotation of Ferris Bueller in his About Page is a very persuasive argument as to why you should check his site out

Before I get going, I’d like to offer my many thanks to Alex for letting me be a part of his terrific Foreign Favourites film series. There have been some really excellent reads so far. The Raid 2: Berandal is out April 11th buds!

The Raid film poster

Quick Synopsis: A group of highly skilled SWAT officers find themselves on the brink of disaster as they attempt to…

View original post 878 more words