Thursday, February 25, 2021

Murder By Numbers


Blood Rage 1987. d. John Grissmer

Written by: Bruce Rubin (as Richard Lamden)

Starring: Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Julie Gordon

Summary: "As kids, Todd is institutionalized for a murder whilst his twin goes free. 10 years later, on Thanksgiving, Todd escapes and a killing spree begins in his neighborhood." IMDB

This was chosen, I'm pretty sure on a dare, by one of the people in my horror/murder/true crime group last week. It is not a good film but at least it's memorable. Mostly we focused on how outlandish it all was: premise weak, actors' deliveries all extremely reactionary and overblown, fashion choices of the mother out of place even in 1987, and William Fuller (Bubba Flavel's Klansman pal from Porky's 2) as stepdad "Brad," but it was still fun. All in all, it was one of the more adult slasher films I've seen, adult not as in mature in any way but in a disturbingly high body count, many f-words, and prolonged sexual situations with widespread nudity kind of way. This is something I probably would have really enjoyed back in college, not sober. Put it up there with Fun House


Copycat 1995. d. John Amiel

Written by: Ann Biderman, David Madsen

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney

Summary: "An agoraphobic psychologist and a female detective must work together to take down a serial killer who copies serial killers from the past." IMDB

I love this film. It's a very good story with a well-chosen cast, and it's just clever. The first time I watched this back in stadium apartments at UMD in 1996 I couldn't get over how genius it all was. I think I took the tape from the football players' place and watched again the next day by myself, that's how into it I was. 

Watching again now the pacing impressed me. It takes a fair amount of time to even officially establish that these are serial killer murders (for the cops, we as the audience have special insight into the killer's stalking and computer stuff, so we know), and then it takes a few attempts for Hudson (Weaver) to agree to work with the cops, so it's all the more satisfying when they finally get together and start figuring it all out. And what a thrilling system to figure out! He's not just a copycat, he's a by-the-book, as-delivered-in-the- lecture, perfectionist copycat! He does it better than the real guys did! Wow. Worth discussing: were Peter's motivations as a copycat serial killer broad (these previous killers have provided me with the focus I need in my disturbed life and I will go above and beyond their respective examples) or was he just obsessed with Daryl Lee Cullum and figured this would get his attention? Props either way, I guess.

Hudson's SFO apartment is gorgeous, everyone is very attractive, and hey, Police: Murder By Numbers! Hunter's MJ was a little irritating, but she was meant to be, I think, Hudson even addresses it ("does she do this often, this wide-eyed little girl routine?") and it works. I really enjoyed her out-of-fucks-to-give response at the end. We always knew she could handle more than just a brachial nerve shot anyway. Best line of the film: "Looks like I cured your agoraphobia, Helen!"


Midsommar 2019. d. Ari Aster

Written by: Ari Aster

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

Summary: "A couple travels to Scandinavia to visit a rural hometown's fabled Swedish mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult." IMDB

I had to watch this twice. Mostly because I just needed to make sure I was getting what I thought I got the first time, but then I needed two specific answers. 1. Exactly how much time was spent on the opening situation with Dani's family (12 minutes) and 2. What was with that person with the facial deformities, and did I miss something about this person's role? This was never really answered with any satisfaction, although many pieces have been written about this character's link to eugenics, white supremacy, and mysticism. I'm still confused by it; I'm leaving it at that.

I enjoyed this film a lot, it was disturbing and smart. This isn't something that can be "mastered;" like many thinking films out there I think each viewer is set up to have a unique experience based on whatever personally resonates. For me, the horror was incidental, the theme of empathy was what moved and underscored everything that happened on screen. That said, the music and composition of shots in the natural environments were amazing. The fact that this was all taking place in a midnight sun setting made it all the more creepy and offputting.

Dani is empathetic. Is shown from the film's first scene to have concern for her parents (calls them to check in after sister's scary email) as well as her bipolar and obviously upset sister who is suffering from a concerning episode. Dani seeks reassurance from Christian, immediately senses he's disengaging, and then chides herself for making him uncomfortable. Dani is intelligent (tons of books in her place) and self-aware (constantly adjusting and adapting her behavior and expectations), and although not yet completely able to see through all of Christian's antics--his friends' conversation exposes the fact that he is ambivalent about Dani, lies outright about his plans to go to Sweden, then makes up a ruse about inviting her along which fails, since she ends up going---she clearly senses something is off in their relationship. She is a feeling person.

Pelle is empathetic with specific knowledge and insight. Does not join the other two friends in criticizing Christian's relationship with Dani, expresses sadness and apologies to Dani over her family's deaths (stating outright that he has experienced the same loss), and not only remembers her birthday in Sweden but drew a portrait of her for a gift. Pelle is both a feeling person and a knowing person. Was he sent on his summer-season "pilgrimage" to examine this empathy in contrast to how young adults in America mature? Was he excited to bring Dani along because he knew how she'd be received? 

The Boys are not empathetic: Josh seems very dedicated to his study, an interested anthropologist, the knowledge expert of the group but short on emotional connection to people. Christian is an unreliable partner and a wishy-washy academic. Was he destined for something unpleasant because he was a marginal human being? Maybe. The bear he eventually . . . became was caged when they first got there. There were obviously plans for the bear within the tradition of the festivities, but out of all of them, Christian seems the least likely to put up a fight or even commit to a position about anything. Maybe the village knew how this would play out. He feels little (Dani states she's never seen him cry) and knows little (he is directionless in his thesis studies and basically copies Josh). Only Mark is lower, beginning as simply callous and annoying but emerging as the ugly, insensitive American cliche once in Sweden. 

The empathy at work: the village senses Dani's empathy and embraces her because she's like them. She receives from the village the support and acknowledgment (exemplified in the mirroring of her reactions in pain after seeing Christian's sexual ceremony) she needed from Christian but never received. The act of the ho-ha breaths the villagers all take could be the literal taking in of the group's humanity and sharing it as one. Funny how Dani unknowingly does the breath when she blows out the birthday candle on Christian's too-little-too-late cake. 

Bottom line? I think they were always going to kill whatever outsiders came to the celebration, but that Dani was special and got asked to stay.