_dreamcatcher

—incidentally. Here’s a film that freaks the bejesus outta me. The little known Lawrence Kasdan: Dreamcatcher (2003) sits apart from most Stephen King adaptations, alongside Frank Darabont’s hopscotch The Mist (2007). Unlike other Stephen King stories, there’s a deliberately unresolved mystery to Dreamcatcher, as there is with The Mist, that arguably helps foster a dialogue between horror and science-fiction that few films have ever actually done.

Where science-fiction adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, like Paul Michael Glaser’s The Running Man (1987) are kitsch, if not a bit tongue-in-cheek, the anomaly that is Dreamcatcher remains as sorely misunderstood as it is underappreciated. The closest companion it has, in more ways than one, is probably John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Not the least for being set in the snow. The 2001 novel Dreamtcatcher is a glorified road-trip with telepathy and aliens. A psychological thriller that the film actually translates better than the book conveys.

The film plops you in the thicket of things. I think that’s what I like the most about it. Assumption: You’ve seen Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986), you’ve seen Tommy Lee Wallace’s It (1990), you get a concentrated version of these friendships without waffles. Childhood weaves in and out of adulthood as characters remember. That’s key. The steady realisations adulthood brings with it are unrealised childhood perspectives, and, to be honest, better reflect the non-linearity of our lives, and the way we interact with our past, than linear transitions from childhood to adulthood do.

While I can understand how the film feels rushed, I actually think it’s perfectly paced for other reasons. You’re always left unsteady, uneasy, unbalanced, unable to stop and catch your breath. There’s an element of suspense to this pace that directly contributes to the horror. When events start unfolding, and unfolding quickly, you’re still reeling from the fact you’ve just witnessed a grown man give birth to an ungodly, unworldly, snakeful of teeth. Every moment in this film is important. Especially the calm before the storm.

The storm itself? Fuck. Me. Personally, they embody that aspect of alienness seldom seen in science-fiction, and that’s inscrutability. The intentions of these motherfuckers are unapproachable. At best, colonialism on a budget. There’s some slight similarity between H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel The War of the Worlds, and, at times, the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is uncanny. But you’re not meant to know, and what scraps you do get, are as thoughtful as they are spine-tingling.

You want answers, sure. It’s not that kind of film, but. It wouldn’t work if you knew too much. What is alien remains alien, in that sense. There are several points throughout the film, I feel have always had the potential to be divisive, like the memory warehouse, but also The Ripley, Col. Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman), Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), and the ending. Given the scale of the threat, the abruptness of the ending, I think, is honestly the most human way about finishing off a truly alien invasion.

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_it

—’s about time I reviewed something I was ambivalent about. That ambivalence is usually characterised by an inability to say anything more about a film other than that it was good. Not altogether great, but in no way bad. And, ordinarily, I’d leave it at that.

What it is about the latest adaptation (Muschietti; 2017) of Stephen King’s 1989 novel It I can’t bring myself to write about is a strange mixture of nostalgia and familiarity. There’s the 1990 miniseries of the same name, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, featuring a memorable, fear-inspiring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. Everything else about the film reeks of budget, but Curry poured himself into that role, and ultimately redefined it. The new Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) looks the part, part one, but lacks. Well. Nuance. A kind of spunk. He embodies the fear of the clown without being scary himself. Curry always felt. Unpredictable.

There are two other Stephen King books and adaptations of the same name, that also come to mind: Rob Reiner’s well respected Stand By Me (1986) and Lawrence Kasdan’s underrated Dreamcatcher (2003). Including It, each film revolves around children and childhood comradeship. American-style summers are unheard of here in Australia, in temperature and holiday, so there’s a somewhat wistful gulf I have of the notion of that kind of summer, more imaginary than real. It and Dreamcatcher are essentially the same story from opposite ends of the spectrum; one’s fantastic, the other’s science-fiction. Stand By Me teeters in the middle, childhood unresolved.

So Andy Muschietti’s adaption is following in the footsteps of 80s revival nostalgia, reminiscent of synthwave, Matt Duffer’s and Ross Duffer’s Stranger Things (2016–), and a handful of stylistic arthouse pioneers, Ti West’s The House of the Devil (2009), and Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), to name a few. It definitely has the right 80s feeling about it, from sound to cinematography, down all the way to Derry. There are shots in there that even look like the TV miniseries adaptation. If anything it all actually made me pine for the 90s of my childhood. Australia has always been a decade (or two {or three [or four]}) behind the rest of the world anyhow.

Something I distinctly dislike about horror films is. Horror. Specifically the way that horror is encouraged, usually by what is known colloquially as jump-scares. Jump-scares are designed around a sort of (reverse) orgasm; lots of foreplay with a pay-off. See, I know the formula, so I know what to expect. Not exactly, but I know it’s coming. Ba-dum-csh!

Jokes aside, the kind of horror I like is a mix of mystery and suspense. What keeps me hooked is not knowing. What I don’t know, frightens me. Mystery is the lure. I want to know what it is that frightens me. I want to master that fear. Knowing is a part of mastering. That’s what kept me going through the TV miniseries, wanting to know what It was. Except here I already know.

_the tree of life

—realise I’ll never be ready to write about so here goes. My introduction to Terence Malick started in second-year uni. That was a pivotal year. I shifted across from novel to screenwriting as a major. Amazing lecturers; Lisa Dethridge, Tim Richards, Christine Rogers. The kinds that push and challenge with passion and kindness without spite or sour grapes. Needless to say I learnt a lot then and that’s where I found Malick when we had to watch Badlands (1973).

Badlands is a film I’ve watched once. Wouldn’t pick it for a Malick film. Spacek (as Holly) and Sheen (as Kit) are just a regular Bonny and Clyde. I don’t want to get too lost in any nuance to do with Badlands as I do with something like Days of Heaven (Malick; 1978). That’s where Malick really comes into his own. Story’s sparse. Characters more so. Alberta really shines, though. Let us not speak so much of Richard Gere (as Bill).

Malick likes to tell his stories through showing them. Story increasingly comes secondary to the landscape. The story living through the landscape. The characters living through the landscape living through the story. Those who control the land control the story. As they do in Days and The Thin Red Line (Malick; 1998). I’m going to glaze over The New Land (Malick; 2005) I’ve yet to see; because I like to save and savour at least one film of an auteur’s for a little later and a little mystery.

Malick disappears for a while after then. Busy. Comes back into the fore with The Tree of Life (2011), refreshed and restored. In control and in his element. That’s key. Malick has final say on the balance between showing and telling, now: story and landscape. So much so it’s almost drunken. Back as far as the creation of the universe. There’s heated debate about whether or not Malick is a Heideggerian. Maybe. Maybe not. I think that’s reading too much into it.

The Tree of Life is the foundation for establishing this delicate relationship between human and landscape. “The way of nature and the way of grace”. All things are a manifestation of this changing landscape, and The Tree of Life is like that childhood phase. Everything’s neat and new and fresh and seemingly incorruptible. And the death of (that) innocence, through (the) story, the unremitting way of nature only trying to please itself, corrupts that landscape; as it later does in To the Wonder (Malick; 2012), that twilight adolescence; and finally Knight of Cups (Malick; 2015), “nobody’s home”. Nothing’s left.

So why the dinosaurs? Why the whisper monologues? How the music? How the Lacrimosa? Remember that The Tree of Life was destined to be longer. Much longer. It’s only a fraction of the life age of the Earth and the universe. These time-scales are important to remember. Malick is reminding us the landscape is a part of us inside of us; its volatility; this geology; in all things. Its corruption goes both ways.

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