In Sheep’s Clothing: Three quick movie reviews

In Sheep’s Clothing: Three quick movie reviews December 18, 2019

Corpus Christi: In this Polish film, a series of coincidences allows a juvenile delinquent (Bartosz Bielenia), who longs to go to seminary but knows his criminal record will keep him out, to hide out in a small town pretending to be their new priest. Daniel emulates the priest who inspired him in the detention center, bringing an unpredictable edge to his Masses and homilies. He’s very clearly still got that criminal heart–he isn’t a lamb or a sweetheart–but for that very reason he’s able to get close to some of the alienated local teens. And as he smokes pot with them or dances at their parties he discovers the truth behind a local mystery, and decides to right an injustice and expose a coverup.

We know he can’t keep up his own masquerade indefinitely; the sins of all hearts will be revealed. And although Corpus Christi occasionally sways into sentiment, mostly it earns its painful emotions. There are some stunning shots of Daniel, with his scared scraped face, looking up at the crucifix for guidance. The small town has an enjoyable battle for dominance between the priest and the church lady. The ending is relentlessly depressing–he has nowhere else to go–although it does suggest that Daniel’s work in the town was not for nothing. He’s too violent to be a Christ figure–but, in a movie about the priesthood of all believers, he’s also too helpless to be anything else.

Little Joe: Man, this movie disappoints. It’s a fable about scientists who create a plant that makes people happy. The colors are stunning, all lime sherbet and fuchsia, pastels and clinical gray/whites. The music is distinctive and unsettling. The acting is fine. The camera is smart. So much talent! Such a resonant, contemporary idea, what do we sacrifice when we seek a feeling of happiness over harmony with others? You could make a movie about the whole problem summarized by our constant tic (I do this also, and only noticed when Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry pointed it out to me) of saying “a sense of” community, hope, trust etc. instead of simply saying community, hope, trust.

This isn’t that movie. Very early on a character tells us that the plant, “Little Joe,” will warp people’s personalities so that they feel great but all they want is to help Little Joe reproduce. Then that happens. Boom, done, that’s the whole story. It’s much too thin and simple, and didn’t (for me) open up into the deeper questions raised by its premise. Even the contrast between the main scientist’s son and her plant creation, which could get into very cold horror waters or perhaps more theological “begotten vs. made/free vs. predictable” ones, just kind of peters out into a story of a boy who does what a plant tells him and that’s kind of creepy and sad.

The thing we want from stories–and maybe especially horror, which touches the sublime, and science fiction, which relies on both the power and limits of our reason–is a glimpse of something greater than what we’re told explicitly. This is precisely the depth Little Joe doesn’t provide.

Silent Night, Deadly Night: Speaking of talent squandered! This is a movie with everything to recommend it except its morals. It’s a delightfully mean-spirited tale of a boy traumatized by seeing his parents murdered by Santa Claus, who grows up to go on his own ho-ho-home invasion killing spree. The music is fantastic, both the instrumental stuff and the hilarious pop tunes crafted for the film by Morgan Ames (“Christmas Fever”–catch it!). The child acting is surprisingly strong, especially the youngest actor who plays Billy and the little girl who gets a bloody knife as a Christmas present. The whole look of it has now become haunting, it’s so exquisitely evocative of an early ’80s childhood. The toyshop scenes are perfect, a fantasia of Smurfs.

There are surprisingly poignant office-Christmas-party drunks, there’s death by reindeer, there’s death by sleigh. There’s just so much of what one might want from this specific kind of movie. Unfortunately there’s also a relentless early-’80s insistence on bare breasts + violence, just grim and degrading stuff dedicated to the worst possibilities of the “male gaze.” Bare boobs of a woman being assaulted, a nun whipping a child with a belt, boobs + assault in flashback, boobs + assault in present tense, and on and on. This aspect of the movie is so unpleasant that it sours the candy-cane pleasure of a slasher classic.

Venus fly trap via Wikimedia Commons.

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