When You Hear the Attack Warning: Short movie notes

When You Hear the Attack Warning: Short movie notes September 14, 2023

Horror and the 1970s (but I repeat myself! badum-tish).

A Dark Song: Grueling, unexpected Irish horror flick about a grieving woman who hires a Satanist to teach her a demon-summoning ritual, for sad reasons which might be sadder lies. The ritual requires them to spend months in a creepy house together, so there’s a strong “you and I against the world” vibe, like The Night Porter without either history or (much) sexuality. Two trapped and angry people resorting to one another, because you have to yell at somebody, right? A slow and wrenching film which nonetheless lives up to the promise of its title.

Tigers Are Not Afraid: A Mexican fable in which children go up against their local drug cartel. Paola Lara is terrific as the lead; the scene where she stumbles forward into the narcotraficante’s backyard, her shoulders high and face frozen, is breathtaking. The locations and production design are stellar. The look of the film is the best aspect: urban ruins, tiger graffiti, gleaming water, alleys and abandonment. The fairy-tale, magical/horror elements are a little too constructive and strenuously uplifting. I’m not saying movies about kids vs. cartels need to be lightless, I’m just saying that this specific film’s hope seemed more like a genre convention than a persuasive dream.

Performance: Oh man, the 1970s. Remember when filmmakers decided they wanted to push the boundaries, and ended up with rhythmless scenes intercutting explicit sex and whatever banal thing they thought might express the hollowness of bourgeois capitalism? Remember when they did screechy sound effects to signify that modern life is madness? A sadistic gangster (to call him sexually-ambiguous would give him too much credit) and a burnout rock star (played by Mick Jagger!) are funhouse mirrors of one another. This is an interesting and extremely 1970s idea, the rebels are as bad as the bosses. Jagger is fantastic–louche and enervated, in his fantasy world of hunting trophies and untouched synths. Unfortunately the film is mostly about the gangster, who lacks Jagger’s charisma and generally is no fun. And then the self-consciously disorienting style makes it even harder to care about what is happening.

Threads: Famously-horrifying 1984 BBC docudrama about a Soviet nuclear strike on Sheffield. You know, I don’t even want to tell you too much about this thing. It is genuinely disturbing, in part because there’s some skillful character work in the, what, hour or so before the mushroom cloud rises. (Sheffield itself is vividly-imagined, “a character in its own right” as they say.) In the back half, the docudrama format allows the film to do a lot of work quickly, telling rather than showing you the scope of the horror. The matter-of-fact statistics and voiceover make it more painful, not less–you know something is very bad when nobody’s trying to tug your heartstrings about it. I don’t know, what can you say about Threads? I knew its reputation and it lived up to it.

All of these are streaming on Shudder except Performance, which I saw at the AFI.

Tigress w/cub, photographed by davidvraju, via Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons license.

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