This Week In Film: The Good, The Bad, And The Paranormal

The Skin I Live In, The Three Musketeers, Paranormal Activity 3

By , Columnist

Well folks, Halloween is almost here and so we’ve got a fairly spooky weekend to look forward to at the movies with distributors hoping to make a little cash off of the horror holiday cheer.

First off is a trip to the art house with Pedro Almodovar’s deeply disturbing The Skin I Live In, a film tailor made audiences who love shocking “what the f*ck” plot twists.

From the Hollywood scare factory comes Paranormal Activity 3, a sequel that is primarily getting released because the Saw franchise is over and something in the horror genre has to come out for Halloween.

Finally, the scariest title released this week is The Three Musketeers. Nothing frightening happens in the movie per say, but the fact that something that dumb could be made far more terrifying than anything to appear in the other movies. So, the only real question is how you want to be scared this weekend, through psychological scares (the good), ghost house jump scares (the paranormal), or embarrassingly bad filmmaking (the bad). The choice is yours, dear reader. 


The Good: The Skin I Live In 

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Art house favorite and Oscar-winner Pedro Almodovar take a dip into the macabre just in time for Halloween. The director known for flamboyant melodrama, comedy, and romance proves to have a surprising knack at the horror/thriller drama in what hopefully won’t be an isolated dark wacko masterpiece in his career.

It’s hard to imagine that you’ll see a movie that burrows its way into your brain and deeply unnerves you as much as The Skin I Live In this October, even though the film involves no ghosts, vampires, or zombies (thank God, zombies are a little too overexposed these days).

Instead, Almodovar crafts a story so deeply unsettling in its subject matter that there’s no need for any of the common threats that go bump in the night.

The film reunites Almodovar with Antonio Banderas whom he discovered in Spain many moons ago. The pair had a rather famous falling out when Banderas left one of the director’s projects to go to Hollywood and Almodovar has created such a sick and twisted character for the actor to play in this film that you have to wonder if the casting was some sort of sick in-joke between the collaborators.

Banderas stars as an insane plastic surgeon who keeps a beautiful woman locked in a room in his house whom he uses as a guinea pig for the experimental artificial skin that he’s creating.

The woman is a volatile victim who has obviously been kidnapped by Banderas for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent. Detailing any more of the plot would be unfair as the joy of the movie is slowly discovering the twisted world that Almodovar has created.

Film geeks might be able to guess that it’s some sort of incestuous twist on Eyes Without A Face and to an extent they are right, though even those eagle eyed viewers are sure to be shocked by the depth of perversion in the tale.

Almodovar’s lush, colorful, and expressive visual aesthetic proves to be a perfect mix with the genre. Though it’s unlikely he’s a fan, of the genre, Almodovar’s film feels like a vintage Italian horror giallo, combining rich visuals and an almost surrealistic atmosphere with a dark n’ dirty horror/thriller plot. It’s one of the most visually beautiful films that you’ll see this year, ironically depicting very ugly subject matter and the combination works.

The film may have meager ambitions by the director’s standards, but taken on its own terms this is easily one of his finest achievements. In interviews Almodovar has made it clear that he decided to make The Skin I Live In as a one-off experiment in genre filmmaking. The experiment worked so well that hopefully he’ll be encouraged to dabble in the darkness once more down the road.

I never would have predicted it, but Pedro Almodovar might secretly have been one of the best horror filmmakers around for years, he just happened to make his money on the art house circuit.


The Bad: The Three Musketeers

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Director Paul W.S. Anderson has made a career out of overblown blockbuster crap like his videogame adaptations Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. He’s a man who specializes in Hollywood cheese and it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever come up with a more ridiculous blockbuster than The Three Musketeers.

Here’s a film that takes a classic adventure novel that’s been beloved for generations and pisses all over it with CGI assisted slow-motion fight scenes. The plot and main characters are roughly the same as Alexandre Dumais’ classic novel only now the story revolves around the absurd flying battleships that Dumais was too scared to include in his original text.

I’m not making that up, the major edition to Anderson’s version of the story is the inclusions of flying battleships that the musketeers steel plans for from a secret vault of Leonardo Da Vinci in the prologue. This is the level of ridiculous elastic reality that the film operates on. It’s so silly that it’s impossible not to laugh at the movie and the only real question about the project is whether or not Anderson created those laughs to be intentional.

In certain sequences (particularly those involving Anderson’s wife Milla Jovovich as a kung-fu fighting Milady de Winter who likes to strip down to her undergarments during heists), there is a winking sense of humor about the absurd action theatrics that suggests perhaps the entire movie is a tongue in cheek parody of bad Hollywood blockbusters. If that’s the case, Anderson has created a pretty hilarious comedy.

The problem is that for every silly parody scene there are two straight up cheesy scenes that may or may not also be jokes. Either way this is a bad movie, but one so ludicrously misconceived that it’s fairly enjoyable in a “so-bad-it’s-good” kind of way. I’d like to give Anderson the benefit of the doubt and assume he was winking his way through a crappy screenplay, however based on his track record I think we’ve got to assume that the man simply made an unintentional comedy. Look for this sucker to be a major player at the Razzie Awards this year.


The Paranormal: Paranormal Activity 3 

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That’s right, the homevideo horror series about creepy dads who film their families 24 hours a day is back. This time the Paranormal Activity series flashes back to the '80s where old VHS tapes tell an origin story of sorts about how the serial hauntings started for the sister protagonists in the first movies back when they were little girls.

By now you should be pretty familiar with the Paranormal Activity formula (place a camera in a darkened bedroom, stay still for tension to build, then make a sudden movement or loud noise - cue a jump in the audience) and nothing much has changed in this third chapter. But on the plus side, nothing has to.

The subtle scare series works well and seem to make audiences hoot and holler like clockwork. It’s difficult to say why these movies are so effective. Maybe it’s because they tap into universal childhood fears of haunted family homes, maybe it’s because technology has reached a point where seeing characters film themselves at all times is no longer abnormal, or maybe it’s because the bloodless jump scares provided a nice antidote to the Saw series’ torture porn of which audiences have grown tired.

Whatever it is, Paranormal Activity seems to be the new perennial Halloween horror franchise and fortunately part 3 might be the series highlight thus far.

For the first time the characters of the Paranormal Activity movie are not only relatable, but likable so you actually care what happens to them rather than simply waiting for the ghosts to scare them.

This added character depth comes courtesy of co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the guys responsible for last year’s fascinating social networking documentary Catfish. Their gift for subtle character comedy carries over and while it does hurt their claims that Catfish was real, hopefully they’ll at least get more directing work of off the inevitable success of this movie.

The increased budget now that this is a Hollywood franchise also allows them to pull off some impressively elaborate scares that never would have been possible in the first to movies. Like the previous Paranormal Activity romps, this is still a fairly bloodless and bland slice of horror that relies almost exclusively on making audiences jump at unexpected loud noises.

If that technique doesn’t work for you, you’ll be just as irritated by this entry. However, if you like the series, this movie is possibly a franchise high point, although hopefully it’ll be the end of the series.

It’s time for some fresh blood to kick off a new Halloween horror franchise before this one gets as worn out, predictable, and repetitive as the Saw movies. At least I don’t have to trot out any lame Para-snore-mal Activity puns this time out though. Thank God for that.

 

Also opening this week: Johnny English Reborn (Remember that Rowan Atkinson spy spoof from a few years ago that actually played worse than Goldmember? Yeah, it got a sequel and the laws of diminishing returns apply), Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (a documentary about the man who created Elmo that’s far better than you’d expect - guaranteed to make a grown man who grew up on Sesame Street cry). The Mighty Macs (Finally, a woman’s basketball movie. Yay?) 

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