The Dark Knight

2008/ UK, USA

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart

Words: R. Topham

The Dark Knight is critically and publicly regarded as one of, if not the, best Batman films of all time. Not only is this because of Heath Ledger’s universally admired performance as The Joker, but because Christopher Nolan is a directorial wizard that injected some life and intensity into a previously struggling franchise. He truly grasped and understood what would constitute an authentic Batman film that honours the characters, story-lines and fans alike.

Hollywood blockbusters can walk a thin line between being an OTT cheese-fest and not delivering quite what was promised or expected. Ask around and prequel Batman Begins was the latter, though it introduces the perpetually solemn Bruce Wayne as a separate entity to Batman in a more authentic and pragmatic way than previous depictions. Christian Bale’s method acting and dedication to his work really shines through in this role, and even after the 500th time of watching The Dark Knight he’s so intense and convincing it’s hard to imagine him not as Batman.

The infamous Gothamite may be tough as nails after all that fancy training with Ra’s al Ghul, but he wasn’t quite ready for what The Joker was scheming.  Core to this film is the binary opposition between good and evil, Batman the former and The Joker the latter. Since his creation, Bruce Wayne/Batman is hailed as the ‘good guy’, but Nolan cleverly reinforced the complexities in his character, emphasising his slightly twisted undertones that fellow superheroes don’t really tap in to.  We see this during the interrogation scene, when Batman attempts to intimidate his annoyingly nonchalant nemesis and assert his authority through violence, getting so angry it literally oozes out of him in his spit.

Bruce Wayne is adamant that “Gotham needs a hero with a face” and that Harvey Dent is that hero. The district attorney’s fall from grace, however, is perfect because it shows the fragility of human nature and the overwhelming force of grief on our behaviour. Aaron Eckhart was a surprising casting choice, but his portrayal of Harvey Dent, the ‘good guy gone bad’, is perhaps one of the most underrated roles in the film.

The symbolism of the Batman character – that he could be anyone – is iconic in itself, and The Dark Knight anchors the tensions that a faceless hero acting above the law would unearth in a metropolis like Gotham.  As Carmine Falcone reminds us in Batman Begins, people always fear what they don’t understand – fear is a foundational emotion in how Bruce Wayne/Batman conducts himself, and beneath the suit and the bravado he’s fearful of The Joker because he doesn’t, and can’t, understand him.

The Dark Knight has become a classic of the genre, a cult phenomenon. Every component of the film is memorable: Hans Zimmer’s legendary score, the solid script providing an abundance of unbeatable quotes, Heath Ledger’s improvised hospital scene… The list goes on. Ledger’s disturbing and tragic interpretation of The Joker will be remembered for generations to come as one of the finest performances of the 21st century, for it remains a true honour to watch.

It Follows

2014/ USA

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi

Words: E. Jackson

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows opens on a teen running from our ominous POV in a suburban street, terrified and stumbling from house to house in the smallest satin lingerie possible. Shortly after this girl is dispatched off camera we move on to watch the heroine, this time in a swimming costume, our gaze no longer murderous but lingering pensively (sleazily) on her shape, her skin. It’s a horror trope to have your female characters objectified from the buttocks outward before they’re really introduced, I conceded. It’s just a nod to the exploitation roots of slashers, pause for a sly wink to the genre fans as is currently trendy. The politics of the film will surely improve. It’ll get scarier than that first kill too. Won’t it?

The horror portion of the film begins when Jay (Maika Monroe) is drugged and abducted by the boy she was dating (Jake Weary). She is told that their previous sexual encounter has ‘passed on’ victimhood to an unknown force that will kill her unless she, too, passes on the role by having sex with someone else. To me that set-up is creepy for reasons more basic than supernatural and the allusions to an abuse dynamic are only briefly addressed, but soon enough Jay starts to see that she’s being pursued by a thing in myriad forms, invisible to others and characterised by following her at a snail’s pace and trying to kill her. So far so good, a chilling concept with room for everyone’s idea of frightening. Once this reality is recognised by Jay’s mostlylikeable friends, the plot revolves around how they handle this supernatural STD, together and with refreshing openness.

The question of morality in passing ‘it’ on is less considered here than whether the monster can be killed and if it can harm the group. Worryingly, the issue of whether Jay actually wants to have more sex also takes a back seat, as her increasing vulnerability leads to a clinical attitude of contact based on self-preservation: The sense of exploration and curiosity in related sex-threat movies such as Cherry Falls or Contracted is very much absent.  A lingering shot of Monroe exhausted and looking towards a distant boat is intentionally nauseating, the implication being that she will seduce the three men on board just to push herself further down the potential chain of murders. Her predatory element is dismissed quickly in the case of a girl on guy seduction, references to porn culture hinting that for the guys on the boat or in her bed, it would be a short-lived dream come true rather than an unwanted encounter, and she has their inevitable deaths to worry about without having to question the original situation in context.


Conversely if we consider Jay as abused rather than abuser, lines like ‘You’re a girl, it should be easy for you’ (to prostitute for survival regardless of desire) make the film’s politics clear, ignoring the idea that the constant objectification and pornification that inevitably accompanies girlhood and attractiveness is also the climate that typifies the vast majority of physical abuse, kidnapping, rape, and murders preceded by stalking in the real world. It could be argued that the scariest place inhabited in this metaphor is the vulnerability to attack brought on by female sexuality itself, but that’s a conversation larger than a review will allow for and it certainly seems beyond the scope of the filmmakers as long as sexual identity is used as a bartering tool for the larger theme of menacing STDs.

Simply put, Jay can’t win here. For her sin of genuine desire, she’s made a carrier for something that either renders her a victim to be killed or a murderous femme fatale by association. Problematic doesn’t cover it. Additionally, Monroe’s given nothing to do with much of this emotional minefield besides run and panic, and no real personality means we have no real stake in what happens to her character, wasting the talent she demonstrated inThe Guest.

In fairness, male characterisations are equally thin on the ground for It Follows. A few seconds of incestuous horror in one particular scene come across as forced and flat because we have no idea of the existing family dynamic for that victim outside of a threatening context. Perhaps the most insulting of these male arcs, though, is the suggestion of Keir Gilchrist’s Paul as a white knight figure for Jay and a sexual partner we should be rooting for. Why is Paul subtly painted as a hero? Purely because he offers to have sex with the good-looking Jay in order to hypothetically sacrifice himself and save her from the unseen pursuer. Absolute gent! If that still seems relatively selfless in light of the murders, consider that it’s brought up following many years of post-childhood-kiss attraction in which Jay has (crucially) chosen to reject his apparent advances under the façade of genuine friendship. How heartless of her, then, not to reward his basic humanity and sullenly jealous staring with sexual transaction based on her affection towards him as an old friend, despite years of saying ‘no’ without saying it aloud. To sympathise with Paul’s character as intended is to buy into the sexist conceit of the ‘nice guy’ myth: That all well-intentioned men have an innate entitlement to be rewarded for good behaviour with female bodies, regardless of how the people inside those bodies truly feel about things. Flying in the face of Jay’s active sexual pull towards other men in the film and her many years of non-attraction to Paul, she eventually comes round to the idea that his attitude represents good boyfriend material, and the pair are united based on what’s purported to be attraction so deep Jay hid it from herself. It’s a sub-plot, but the feminist in me recoiled at what this is telling target audiences.

It Follows is as derivative as it is complex, and the comparison which really stood out for me was David Cronenberg’s masterful Shivers, dealing with the same STD-as-enemy metaphor in a manner that’s all the more disturbing for its crescendo of culturally inappropriate eroticism. We are told in the unapologetic exposition of It Follows that the pursuer can be anywhere, represent itself as anyone human, and that Monroe’s Jay and all her future sexual partners are now trapped by its slow, relentless hunt for them. These criteria are also met inShivers, but there the hunter is parasitic and alien, each new victim’s quest for spiritual and sexual awakening likely a wily ruse towards the adversary’s goal of survival. Here we are given no such perspective to wrestle with, no rationale leading back to us from the beginning of the chain, nor is there any real sense of magnetism in or out of the film’s several sex scenes. As a fan of abstraction and cinematic brevity I’d like to say that all this motivational ambiguity lends the film mystery, but it’s just not so.

In a penultimate set piece, the characters gather in an abandoned pool to protect Jay and bait the entity stalking her. Recreating Shivers’ terrifying ending seems like a perfect opportunity for Mitchell to more openly ‘pay homage to’ Cronenberg and go to the extreme yet logical sexual conclusion of the chase. He instead opts for something tamer, perhaps censored for ratings systems that balk at consensual teen sex yet merrily encourage on-screen violence towards potential shaggers. The result is no more frightening or original than previous scenes, but has all the crafty editing and staged grandeur of an event intended to be climactic.

It was another misfire in a film brimming with moments where I wondered if I should be tense, distractedly contemplating why I wasn’t and instead enjoying some snazzy, pretty effects work. It was also another instance in which I was reminded of a better film. See also: Being beaten over the head with the deliberately noticeable Carpenter-esque score; theHalloween lighting; Elm Street costuming and casting of Deppish Daniel Zovatto; the Let The Right One In pool terror and Swimfan swim along shots, and many others.

I feel I should note here that the film is indeed visually stylish and competently produced and acted, for all its faults elsewhere. However, if we’re to go home terrified by the notion that It Follows, we might first acknowledge that ‘it’ also plods at a decidedly unthreatening pace, structurally repeats itself beyond effect, acts as a collage of superior movie elements, and ultimately bores and offends in equal measure. That It Follows might polarise viewers is not a reflection of unrecognised skill or interesting controversy so much as indicative that this film, like the creature of the title, represents itself within a variety of guises and some of those may appeal. I have no doubt that the overall retro artifice will draw younger audiences who might see it as new or charmingly ironic rather than tired or desperate, but in my eyes, without exception, all of these skins were worn through long before now. There’s nothing more to the chase.


1978/ USA

Director: Joe Dante

Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies-Urich, Kevin McCarthy

Words: O. Innocent

The runaway success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) changed a lot of things; the way movies are marketed, the summer blockbuster formula, public perceptions on sharks and swimming in the sea. It also popularised animal horror, inspiring a spate of clones scrambling to make their titular beasts the next big thing. When Jaws blew the floodgates open, all manner of creatures both great and small were awarded their own starring roles. Of course, there were a lot more sharks to be found with the likes of Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), Tintorera: Tiger Shark (1977) and The Last Shark (1981) openly aping Spielberg’s killer shark formula. Taking to the land to dissuade us from making comparisons to Jaws were Grizzly (1976), Day of the Animals (1977) and Prophecy (1979). Not convinced that sharks were the scariest things swimming about in the ocean, other filmmakers brought us such self-explanatory sea creature titles as Orca: The Killer Whale (1977), Tentacles (1977) and Barracuda (1978). While the aforementioned films can no doubt provide hours of schlocky entertainment, perhaps the best of the bunch is Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978), where the eponymous fish, mutated as a military experiment, are accidentally let loose to ravage a rural riverside community.

The perfect coalescence of producer Roger Corman’s fast-paced bang for your buck exploitation entertainment and director Joe Dante’s witty referential humour, Piranha stands as a shining example of low-budget B-Movie filmmaking done right. Corman and Dante know they can’t top Jaws so they each address this problem in their own inimitable way. Knowing that a film like Piranha can never match a highly regarded quality film like Jaws, Corman simply ups the exploitation quota, providing blood, nudity and high-octane action aplenty. Indeed, while the film doesn’t have the sheen or money of Jaws, what it does have is action, and lots of it; there are car chases, boat stunts, explosions, and scenes of mass fish-related hysteria and the ensuing bloody feeding frenzies to distract from the low-budget. Dante, on the other hand, solves the problem by embracing the fact that his film is a Jaws rip-off, and not taking the admittedly ridiculous premise too seriously. Letting us in on the joke from the offset, Dante has one of the characters play a Jaws arcade game, showing us that, yes, we do know we’re copying Spielberg’s film, but we’re going to have a lot of fun doing so. There’s also a scene towards the end of the film where a sunbather is reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, further cementing its position as a first-rate pastiche of fish and water-related popular culture.

Talking of riffs on pop culture, Piranha is also an unashamed throwback to the creature feature B-Movies of the ‘50s. Paying ample homage to the monster movies he grew up with, Dante infuses Piranha with the same kind of outlandish exuberance and cheap ‘n’ cheerful excess that made black and white big bug movies like Them! (1954) so enjoyable. With its overblown score, over-the-top characterisations, questionable science and mutated monsters, it is easy to see where Piranha’s influences lie. In turn, Dante’s film has itself proved highly influential, its influence being felt in everything from teen slashers like Friday the 13th (1980) (the lakeside camp setting, teens in peril, copious amounts of bare flesh and bloody wounds, etc.) to later animal horrors like Deep Blue Sea (1999). What’s most interesting about Piranha, however, is how its blending of horror and humour served as a blueprint for much of Dante’s later work, arguably reaching its zenith in Gremlins (1984) and The ‘Burbs (1989).



Avengers: Age of Ultron

2015 – USA

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark RuffaloChris HemsworthScarlett JohanssonJeremy RennerJames SpaderSamuel L. JacksonDon CheadleAaron Taylor-JohnsonElizabeth OlsenPaul BettanyCobie SmuldersAnthony Mackie

Words: J. Harris

If you were to speak to some of the more die-hard Marvel fans they may try to explain how characters (Spiderman, the X-Men, etc) exist in a different ‘universe’ to one another, this is not the case with The Avengers.
The Avengers Age of Ultron is the second call to action of the Marvel superhero collective, when Tony Stark attempts to jumpstart a global peacekeeping program but creates a being which puts the world under threat.

If you’re new to the Marvel superhero franchise you may want to familiarise yourself with the first Avengers movie, as one of the great things about it was that it gave a crash course in each of the characters, and there are some references to their previous solo adventures here
– the cause of the worlds impending doom for instance stems from an object called the Tesseract captured in the first Avengers film, and the story here does pick up from where the first film left us.

However if you don’t feel like going on an 8 hour Marvel movie marathon through all the individual outings of each of the characters (though the first Thor film is particularly enjoyable), you can enjoy this blockbuster as a standalone feature without any effort.
We’re all familiar enough with characters such as The Hulk (man gets green and angry, green angry man smashes stuff), and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 6 years Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man (who is at the centre of the story here) won’t be something new to you.

For those who are a little more Marvel movie familiar you might find some confusion/disappointment with the character Quicksilver who we saw in X-Men Days of Future Past (a standout character not featured enough in the mutant action), isn’t referred to here as a ‘mutant’ but an ‘enhanced’, has a completely different backstory and is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who coincidentally starred alongside the X-Men casting of Evan Peters in the film Kick-Ass.

The action sequences, spectacular special effects and performances by a Hollywood A-list cast make this an exciting ride with moments of seemingly unavoidable doom, conflict between the characters themselves with neat dashes of humour thrown in.

This is a movie which deserves an effort be made to watch on the biggest screen possible with with the volume turned all the way up – a good addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.