Inferno (1980) – Rock N Rolla

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Inferno feels like a mashed-up jukebox with lots of gore and blood spilling out from the four corners of the screen than a plot driven about witchcraft. You have a DJ here mixing the songs and giving us what we expect from Dario Argento without caring much about how we get there. Yet, what Argento promises, he delivers: rollicking background scores drumming up the intensity and scenes flowered with artistic brilliance. Not to ignore the gory sights of human destruction at the hands of supernatural forces.

Inferno feels more b-grade than its predecessor and is more in line with Mario Bava’s films than Suspiria (1977). No wonder as Bava worked as Argento’s advisor in Inferno overseeing the visual effects. His son, Lamberto Bava, is the assistant director. Inferno is the second installment of Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. It’s more explicit in explaining the nuances of the three death-personified women than Suspiria was, and treads a path more honest to the gaillo genre than its predecessor.

That doesn’t mean it’s equally compelling or artistic. It takes the theme forward through Mater Tenebrarum—the most dangerous of the three witches—from Mater Suspiriorum in Suspiria. Comparisons are bound with the former as Inferno is a thematic sequel to Suspiria and that may have been the undoing of this otherwise grisly movie.

Mater Tenebrarum is the Mother of Darkness. In Suspiria, we saw the eldest witch, Mater Suspiriorum, popular as Helena Markos. She was the Mother of Sighs. In the much-delayed third part, we round off the trilogy with Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears – the most beautiful and powerful of the three witches. She makes an appearance in Inferno as the cat-eyed, hypnotic music student (Ania Pieroni), but not much is shown after her brief appearance and the blood that she deliciously spills.

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Inferno opens with Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle), a poet living in an apartment in New York. Her next-door neighbor owns an antique store where she buys classic books. One of the books she acquires is the Three Mothers – a loose biographical musing of Arnold Varelli. Varelli, we learn, was an architect and built three mansions for the Three Mothers – one in Freiburg, another one in Rome, and the last one in New York. Those three mansions are the dwelling places of the witches and the land in and around the area are cursed forever because of their sheer presence.

Rose becomes engrossed in the book and suspects that she might be living in one of those Varelli marvels. She writes to her brother in Rome about it. And, there begins a fatal turn of destiny, as those who have read the book remain in danger of dying. Apparently, there are only five copies of the books. Three of them are destroyed by the end of the movie – leaving only two.

In Suspiria, the male characters were all underscores in Suzy Bannion’s investigation of the occult. That’s not the case in Inferno. Mark Elliot (Leigh McCloskey) has a pivotal part in unraveling the mystery of the horrific second witch even if he does it by chance and fate – more than will and appropriate planning. That is the problem with Inferno.

There’s no concrete point-of-view to follow. We travel from New York to Rome and understand the events through the eyes of Mark’s fellow music student, Sara (Eleonara Giorgi) as she happens to read Mark’s letter from his sister, Rose, which ticks her curiosity on the matter. She proceeds to a traditional library and gets her copy of the Three Mothers. This leads to the episode of witch haunting, or Sara’s passage into nightmare. The place of library is suggested to be the home of the third and most deadly mother.

The perspectives keep altering between Rose and Sara, and we see a rehash of one of the famous plot points from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1961).

Even in Suspiria, you could say that all the pieces slot in right together, but – unlike in Inferno – Suspiria was a high-octane horror, with a captivating mystery angle and a plot furthered by Suzy’s inquisitiveness. In Inferno, the inquisitiveness is lacking, or feels rather deceptive, and the resolution that Varelli hints at in the book stumbles upon the characters without a pretense of struggle.

For much of the movie, things happen randomly. And, a lot happens – for sheer pleasure than narrative compulsion. Dario Argento’s screenplay, consequently, lacks crispness in punctuating key points of the movie. The blood and gore are the only highlights of the movie, with the story serving merely as a bonus.

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This doesn’t make Inferno boring to watch. It makes it less exciting than the first part. The sequel mayn’t have been necessary. I don’t think many would have minded, yet it suffices to say that we’d have missed the brilliant visuals and cinematography (Romano Albani) of the film. The underwater scene with Rose in the underground cellar is astonishing and beautiful to watch – heightening the senses, beautifying the movie. To think, Irene Miracle did it all naturally is a humbling aspect and a testament to Argento’s mastery as an artist.

The artist that he is, nonetheless, the music (Keith Emerson) isn’t as gravitating as the Goblins’ master class in Suspiria. It’s too loud at times, mistimed at others – and doesn’t have the same chill or hypnotism.

Inferno is poor man’s Suspiria. If you enjoyed Suspiria, you won’t dislike it. If you go in with the expectations of another Suspira, you’ll be disappointed. The key, therefore, lies in forgetting Suspiria and enjoying for what it is – Dario Argento’s visual magic and the folklore of Italian gaillo.

Indeed, it’s all going to burn down just like before. In Suspiria, the movie was phoenix ashes. In Inferno, it’s just ashes. Once it burns down, you forget about it.

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Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) – Killer’s Kiss

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Raman Raghav 2.0 is not a story about the notorious serial killer of the 60s. It features his inspired fanboy who kills for fun. That fan is Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) killing without qualms or an iota of remorse because he kills for the sake of it, as an end and not a means – as punishment, not liberation.

Ramanna enters a killing spree and soon becomes the most sought after killer. Investigating his case is the morally bankrupt ACP Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) – who’s into drugs and has a heart of a psychopath behind the rags of khaki. The difference here is mere symptomatic.

Ramanna doesn’t need to hide behind any ideological mission to punish his perpetrators. Raghavan’s job is to punish. Here begins the story of these soulmates – the evil and the devil as two sides of the same coin– their only mission to kill: whether it’s people, or their souls within.

The screenplay of Raman Raghav 2.0 is consistent. It’s divided into chapters. Following the two characters simultaneously, Anurag Kashyap and his co-writer, Vasan Bala, create a contrast in their characterizations. Both are confused and both are driven by their thirst. For Raghavan, it’s narcotics and for Ramanna, it’s the smell of blood. Ramanna’s confusion stems from his assured-self, contradictory as it sounds. Raghavan’s confusion is more existentialist. He’s a lost soul.

13177326_884735191649046_4481842317797411431_nThese factors are barely obvious and the latent violence present in the movie makes it a disturbing affair. The gore occurs off-screen, but this suggestion makes it more unsettling – leaving it to the minds of the viewers to gauge the inhuman chaos than the vicarious rendering of violence on-screen.

The star element is of course Nawazuddin Siddiqui. In many scenes, Nawaz bowls you out with his demeanor as the starry-eyed fanboy of a dangerous killer. The opening sequence has Ramanna confessing to his crimes. His coolness is apparent when he talks in detail about the murders. There’s almost a sense of hilarity in all of this – and the scene, powerful as it is, blows you away with just the dialogs and performances albeit aided by the subdued sound effects.

It’s that instance when Ramanna finds his Raghav – and there begins a tale that brings together Raman and Raghav forming an unlikely union that is as dubious for Raghavan as it is for the spectators. There’s a similar scene when Ramanna enjoys his chicken in a pep talk with Paket – before he’s about to become a paketmaar (pickpocketer). That’s symbolic of course, but in that one phrase – Nawaz’s perilous mind reveals itself. It sends chills down your spine and Nawaz pulls it off with a nippiness that’s difficult to digest.

Raman Raghav 2.0 is, hence, nippy. It’s not enjoying as much as it’s gripping. The devilish tone tries to do justice to Nawaz’s performance. In fact, Nawaz makes you feel sympathetic towards the character – a commendable job done by Kashyap, Bala, and the actor.

Where Raman Raghav deters is the direction. Anurag Kashyap is an accomplished director. Not a constant here, save for a brilliant performance by Nawaz, Raman Raghav doesn’t leave a lasting impression by the end. Kashyap’s movies usually have power climaxes – Ugly, Gangs of Wasseypur series, No Smoking, and even his commercial try-out, Dev D. With Raman Raghav 2.0, the evolutions of the characters complete an arc, but there’s not much one would take away from the movie – except the scenes featuring Ramanna.

The usual slow pacing and a plot that’s far from unique – work against the powerful character of Ramanna. I can understand why Kashyap went for a methodical pace. Yet, the story presents nothing new – even if it’s difficult in the serial-killer genre by now.

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Nawaz’s performance deserved a story worth remembering for more than just the performance. There are elements Kashyap instills that are sure to, “push the envelope,” as he’s always tried with his cinema. It almost appears like desi-style innuendo from Park-Chan Wook – only the auteurship is Kashyap’s. The sunglass motif defines the movie concisely.

A fun fact: Pran as Michael D’Souza in Salim-Javed’s 1974 classic Majboor had a similar way of zeroing in – with his hand cupping over his eyes like a binocular. Incidentally, Pran borrowed this from director Ravi Tandon who used to frame his scenes this way!

Not sure whether Nawaz’s reenaction was a tribute or a perfect accident. Whatever the case, it compliments Nawaz as the delirious killer.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – Proving the Absurd

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson) opened to a negative response in 2005. Quite contrary, what impressed me was the baffling concept of demons and Satan reaching the court of law to prove or rather disprove whether Emily was indeed possessed, or her state was a case of neuropsychological disorder. It does sound strange that a fact-based institution would accept a case on spirits and ether.

It happens, and apparently, it is based on true events about a parish priest exorcising a possessed teenager when medical science was proving to be of no help. The case is of Anneliese Michel of course, a young German girl exorcised in 1976 leading to her alleged death. The date 1976 becomes important because we’re looking back at medical science 40 years ago. Surely, not as sophisticated.

The irony in this courtroom drama lies in our two lawyers, an agnostic as the defendant and a man of faith in the opposition – proving how demons don’t exist and what Emily experienced was, “merely,” psychosomatic.

The two attorneys go back and forth with Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) trying to prove the silliness of the case and Erin Brunner (Laura Linney) trying to prove how supernatural forces did have a say in Emily’s death (played by Jennifer Carpenter). Flashback sequences show the horrors Emily passed through – her physical state eerily resembling the crushing state of Regan from The Exorcist (1973). William Freidkin’s Exorcist is an explicit tale on possession where the exorcism itself is the highlight of the movie. Emily’s story focuses on the rationalizing of exorcism and the existence of demons—in the house of logic no less.

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The accused, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) isn’t concerned with his impending fate. All he wants to do is tell Emily’s story and reveal how forces beyond our understanding exist in a realm that separates this world from the ethereal world. The courtroom drama scenes, hence, are tight and tense. They’re convincing.  The two attorneys know their trade and go back and forth to prove what they stand for as professionals. Thomas doesn’t let his faith interfere, nor does Brunner let her agnostic beliefs interfere.

The flashback scenes, although not abundant, is spooky. You wonder if these demons actually existed, we’d be in a chaotic world with such vengeful beings in control. Yet, if we take a rational standpoint and accept it all as neuropsychological hallucinations, we’d be better relieved for there are ways to control and subside these symptoms.

As a viewer, I wouldn’t be able to say which party is closer to the truth. The flashback scenes make me tilt towards the father, but how logical is the pseudoscience of possession? Occurrences that are difficult to explain seem to find solace in outright dismissals. When such a claim is disputed in court, sometimes you have to wonder – how the court could meddle with an inconceivable truth.

Despite a hot-potato issue, The Exorcism of Emily Rose makes sense and is well written, well shot, and honestly portrayed. Bravura performances from the starcast only help in convincing us that even though the tale mayn’t be true, it’s not untrue either. There is a grey area somewhere – some things aren’t tangible, but just because they aren’t, that doesn’t mean they really aren’t.

As Father Moore says, it’s not about what is true or untrue. Whether the dead really die away or Anti-Christ forces lurk in the corridor. His only mission is to tell her (Emily’s) story and through her – to warn humans that Anti-Christ forces exist, whilst also comforting people with the presence of Virgin Mary and her divinity.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose convinces because of that. The courtroom drama and procedural only give it a legitimate claim and testimonies by experts on the area pose a hypothetical scenario of the existence of a spiritual world.

The movie has its shares of thrills and scares – moments of madness and fright. It makes you think from the perspective of Emily’s family. And, asks you a question: what do you do when science fails? Do we go for suggestive therapy, as the exorcism is most likely to be? Or, do we accept defeat and let somebody close to us die away without a proper trial?

It’s an individualistic question – one that may confront us. Not in the same manner of course. However, there are many facets in our lives where we may have to abandon rational explanation and go for a route that is irrational, unseen – enamoured with consolation nonetheless.

The movie plays along these lines: trying to prove the unknowable by using logic. And, maybe in doing so, we’re giving ourselves too much credit by assuming there is a logical answer to every question.

On balance, Emily Rose is a person who degenerated into a vile object. The sequences that show her as an object are disturbing, yet compelling to watch. The courtroom exchanges between the characters are relishing, witty, and tense. Amid all of this, there is a feeling of legitimacy in the case and the unfolding doesn’t feel out of place in the court of justice.

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Ethical dilemma and morality also stand in defence. The long-debated philosophy of ethics finds ample references and lives as a character on its own. There are discussions about legality and ethics. In any profession, ethics is subjective, law imperative. Emily Rose chose an ethical path sacrificing her for the greater good, and you’d feel – ultimately, ethics does prevail over forced reinforcement of law because one is an exterior precondition, the other is an inherent choice.

You need to approach The Exorcism of Emily Rose with an open mind. If you do so, you’ll enjoy this debate on life and death, especially in a tangible stage designed for arguments. Only this time, matter seems to submerge with spirit – giving us one fine movie that engages us and makes us feel for Emily Rose.

Repulsion (1965) – Evil Behind Closed Doors

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“I must get this crack mended.”

When we call Roman Polanski one of the best living filmmakers, we might be wrong because he has a case in being the greatest living filmmaker today. He is after all the man behind many great movies and such a plethora only warrants him a place at the apex of legendary 21st century filmmakers.

Repulsion is a story of a beautiful schizophrenic, Carole Ledoux – about how she faces her schizoid self when her sister, Helen and Helen’s fiancé, Michael go vacationing in Italy. The beautiful Catherine Deneuve, who went on to act in Luis Buñuel ’s all-time classic Belle de Jour (1967) two years later, stars as Carole supported by the elegant Yvonne Furneaux as Helen and iconic British actor, Ian Hendry as Helen’s blunt boyfriend.

Repulsion is Polanski’s first English film and his second feature following the Polish film, Knife in the Water that came out in 1962. Part of the Apartment Trilogy that started with Repulsion, reached heights with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and concluded with The Tenant (1976), the trio has the same fantastic horror-esque scenario—creating a claustrophobic environment that mirrors the latent and deranged mindsets of the main characters.

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When we first meet Carole in a beauty clinic where she works, we observe a beautiful woman lost between the actualities of the world and the illusion created by the fabricated makeup. The mask conceals the true self beneath the vivre of external glow. Only though, time is a constant factor and when the time comes, no makeup can hide the cracks in you, within you, part of you.

When Carole walks back home from work, the melancholy in her face is apparent. Even when a young romantic follows her (John Fraser as Colin), pursues her, she doesn’t reciprocate as this Dame de L’Appartement is focused on the whirlwind within her mind. She’s a child who’s never grown up. The repeated motif of her family picture only fortifies this. Carole is isolated as we decipher from her family picture and she has never grown up to become a woman from the girl she was when the picture was taken, around the time, when trauma seems to have touched her for the first time.

The trepidation of the apartment she lives in, with her sexually hyperactive sister and a predator-type fiancé, only reminds her of the abuse she incurred as a child. This makes her contempt men—yet, most importantly, the pursuit of men whom she believes are only after her for her physical glory, not to soothe her emotional, vulnerable self that may be beyond the point of return.

Paradoxical layers shape schizophrenics as enigmatic and alluring beings, and Catherine Deneuve epitomizes this visceral charm with forlorn expressions. Her gaudy blonde hair, unprimed, forms a strong motif of hiding the cerebral cracks within her head. Under this bucolic spread of bright yellow, we find a dark mind—subjected to torture by her past experiences, and in the loneliness of the apartment, her demons come to the fore, wreaking havoc, ultimately destroying her innocence.

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In one of the eeriest scenes of the movie, Polanski creates subtle chaos by showing cracks rampaging through the apartment. Together with Carole’s hallucinations—of being raped by Michael, somebody who reminds her of her abusive father—the movie tickles the subconscious fears of Carole that come to life when she’s alone, slowly decaying like a dead rabbit that attracts flies. So does Carole, but she gravitates normal people towards her, yet she has no comprehension of what is normal and what is abnormal. The line vanished long ago, and as with creepy demons, it’s only surfacing now that she’s coming face-to-face with her repressed sexuality, loathing of men, and loneliness that seems to be her only nature.

The apartment, in this part-surreal, part fantastical, and part noir, merely represents the state of Carole, a beautician who lives in a damp, rusty, and depleted flat. As Carole starts disintegrating into an almost nihilistic trance, she fantasizes her flat degenerating into a habitat for the wild.

As a complement, Polanski oversees use of drastic cinematic techniques to make sure that viewers feel the wrath within Carole. Told from a first-person narrative, the use of extreme close-ups of Carole’s eyes in the beginning to the wide mid shots following Carole down the streets to her apartment and within her apartment sets captures Carole’s polarizing mind—a ruptured state within and the feeling of seclusion despite being amidst buzzing London.

Yet, Carole is on the verge of breakdown and that is only the beginning of the nightmare she has been repressing until now. With the emergence of Colin, the clammy apartment’s isolation, and the ticking of the clock—Carole descends into a path of psychosis where all she wants is to be alone. The last thing she needs. She’s already lonely and when her fantasy, bottled-up sexual desires, disdain for sexuality, and a feeling of subjugation creeps in, Carole is like a frog swimming in lukewarm water, about to reach boiling point. When her mind turns up the heat, she enters a killing spree. She’d consider it self-defense. Others would suppose—acts of lunacy.

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Repulsion is uncomfortable and follows Carole in her descend to insanity. Polanski sets the mood for the audiences to be wrapped in horror, and in doing so; he presents a fundamental study of womanhood. Using tight angles to create a suffocating atmosphere, we get into the mind of Carole and that is a creepy experience in itself.

Violent, perverse, and primeval, Repulsion is one of the finest psychological thrillers. It’s almost nauseating at times. That’s not due to what we see on the screen, but how Polanski makes us feel using skintight photography, gripping storytelling, and by creating a dystopian environment. Enhancing all of this is the uncanny performance of Catherine Deneuve as Carole. Through her, we study human behavior under oppression, thereby analyzing the objectification of women and turning home into wilderness—as that seems to be pivotal in the movie.

Roman Polanski’s first English film is arguably his most comprehensive. It shows us why Polanski might be one filmmaker who can get right under your skin and dish out a psychological beating that is sure to leave you with a hangover long after it’s over. Repulsion is a classic.