by Craig Thomas
Director Kim Ji-woon has established himself as something of a genre-hopper, so it is always interesting to see what he comes up with next. From black comedy (The Quiet Family), to horror (A Tale of Two Sisters), to gangsters (A Bittersweet Life), to Korea-based westerns (The Good, The Bad and The Weird), to serial killers (I Saw The Devil), he has tried his hand at all of them and succeeded masterfully. His ability to blend action, comedy and horrendous violence has of course, made him an attractive proposition to Hollywood and 2013 will see the release of his first English-speaking film, The Last Stand. This will see him tackle a story about an aging sheriff, starring none other than the former governor of California (still can’t get over that) Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In some ways, Doomsday Book can be seen as taking care of some unfinished business before leaving town. A bit of research shows that this is in fact not a new film at all and indeed dates back to 2006. It is made up of three short films, each of which was originally intended to be directed by a different director, but funding fell through after the first two segments were filmed and the project was shelved. In 2010 production resumed and a third segment was filmed to complete the piece. The first segment is directed by Yim Pil-sing, whilst the second is by Kim Ji-woon and the final piece is a collaboration between the two of them. So whilst is it is somewhat unfair to focus the introduction on Kim, he is by far the more successful director and (to me at least) this is an introduction to Yim. And boy, this is one hell of an introduction.
The three segments are linked by the common theme of the self-destruction of humanity through technological innovation. We get the sense that neither director is particularly enamored with modernity nor with the general direction of society, though it does not come across as preaching due to the plentiful helpings of comedy, satire and absurdity through which the stories are told.
The first segment, entitled Brave New World, is a love story set in the middle of a zombie apocalypse which spreads through the food chain and causes society to break down. It looks very good and there are some similarity in terms of camerawork and presentation of scenes that remind me of David Fincher’s turn-of-the-millennium work. It mixes the gruesomeness and the humour well and it is blackly comic. I can say with confidence that it is certainly the best zombie horror/comedy crossover I’ve seen since Shaun of the Dead (apologies to the makers of Cockneys Vs Zombies, but it’s true). From this, I can say with certainty that I will be looking at more of his work in the not-too-distant-future.
Another point of note is that this contains a cameo from Bong Joon-ho, who is one of South Korea’s most successful directors (probably best known for directing The Host, of which there was talk of an English-language remake).
The second segment, Heavenly Creature, changes the mood completely. Kim tells the story of a robot in a Buddhist temple which attains enlightenment and therefore whose very existence brings all sorts of existential uncertainties.
From this point Kim takes the opportunity to ponder some of the greatest questions about life and spirituality, about the effect of technology on human existence and the place of humanity in the world. As would be expected, it’s a far more meditative piece, though it certainly doesn’t skimp on the humour. Once again, it looks beautiful.
As does the third segment, Happy Birthday. This takes the crisis of humanity away from the spiritual and back to the materialistic as a meteor heads for earth and people try to prepare for the end of the world. This is certainly the most absurd, or at least the most symbolic, of the three. Again, it is high on laughs and the satire of the media and of TV Shopping networks is very entertaining.
This trilogy is very reminiscent of the excellent UK TV series, Black Mirror, which presents a series of not-too-distant-future scenarios where technology has had serious adverse effects on human life. It is unrelentingly bleak and brilliant and if you liked this movie, then you should certainly watch it.
These are three excellent pieces and they hang together well as a movie, but as with all such projects I find it difficult to relax and watch as I’m constantly aware that it is going to reset quite quickly. Still, this is an excellent piece of work and though it is very ambitious, it does succeed. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Doomsday Book is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
A BRIEF NOTE FROM STEVE:
Hey boys and ghouls,
It’s that hellish time I warned you about! Welcome to Anti-Film School’s Halloween Guest Week, where seven demented film writers are going to unleash terror beyond your wildest imagination. They are discussing five films that scare them and I told each of them to put their own creative spin on the topic, which means anything can happen. First up is a familiar name you’ve seen at Anti-Film School before. It is none other than our UK contributor Craig Thomas tackling the topic in a very unique way. So, lock your doors, say your prayers, and board your windows. They are coming for you!
-Theater Management (Steve)
PS: Body bags are available at the box office.
Without further ado, here’s Craig…
by Craig Thomas
Firstly, a confession. Films do not scare me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good (or bad) horror film as much as the next person but they are not scary. They can be disturbing, or very jumpy or incredibly gross. But not scary.
So I was a bit unsure about what to do when writing about five films that scare me.
I decided the best thing to do would be to trawl through my memory for films that either represented my worst fears or had a profound impact on my mental state, or both. I considered re-watching all of them to give a detailed re-appraisal but decided it would be better to write about them from memory, to focus on those scenes/themes that are indelibly etched into my mind. Therefore this may not be the most accurate guide to these films, but it will more accurately represent what scared (or should that be scarred?) me at the time.
Firstly, I’m going to go with a classic, namely, The Terminator. Yes, the second one is bigger, badder, louder and had the definitive robotic killing machine in the T-1000, and it did scare the pants off me when I was younger, but it is the original that makes the list. It is more visceral (it had an 18 certificate whilst T-2 had was certified 15) and as a child I remember being distinctly freaked out watching Arnie cutting his own eye out. But that isn’t what scared me. That would be the nature of The Terminator. That unstoppable killing machine. Completely relentless and pretty much indestructible.
I think the idea of such a monster is a historic constant, with every generation having its own version. Only this generation’s version could actually happen. Some might even go so far as to say it is inevitable. I am much more optimistic and think the human race will be destroyed by a nuclear war long before we are able to build our own destroyers.
Still, for years the idea of the unstoppable evil haunted my dreams and made going to sleep a potentially terrifying experience. Therefore, it makes the list.
Secondly, I’m going to go with one of my more recent fears. As I get older I find myself more and more concerned about my own mortality (whether or not this had anything to do with my discovering the works of Woody Allen is open to debate). But regardless of its origin, the scenario in this film is horrific and is essentially my second worst ever fear. The film is Buried.
A man wakes up in a coffin with a mobile phone. He has been buried in the Iraqi desert and has to raise an unrealistic amount of money or else he will be left there to die. Pretty grim, right?
Now, what makes this film so scary is not just the idea of being buried alive (which is second only to the fear of being cremated alive) but the way in which it is filmed. The entire movie is set in the coffin. It is shot from a million different angles, but it never leaves the box. It is so claustrophobic that you just want to switch it off and walk through open fields to get a sense of freedom. To get through it I had to consciously remind myself that I wasn’t actually in a coffin and that I didn’t need to conserve my air supply by holding my breath.
The third film is the only traditional horror film in the list. As with 95% of horror films these days, it uses the found footage gimmick. “Oh no” I hear you proclaim, “not another found footage horror film!” Yes, another one. Only this time there is a difference. This one is actually good. The film is called [Rec].
As with every moderately successful horror movie nowadays it has spawned a series of sequels ([Rec] 3 came out this year and [Rec] 4 is scheduled for 2013) to predictably diminishing returns. And because it is in a language other than English, it has had the compulsory remake (renamed Quarantine), of which I will speak later. But none of this should be allowed to take the shine off a great horror film.
As with a lot of these, the beginning is somewhat mundane, but once the action starts the pressure continues to build until the horrifically tense climax. This is one of the main reasons it made the list. There are no lulls in the action, no boring bits while you wait for the next jumpy thing. The stress levels never relent. To show how impressive this actually is, it is worth watching [Rec] and then watching Quarantine because the latter, despite being a shot-for-shot remake, lacks pretty much all of what makes the original so good.
Another reason for its inclusion is that it mixes a bunch of my favourite horror conventions and comes up with something fresh. It’s about a group of people trapped in an apartment building trying to avoid flesh-eating zombies and the flesh-eating zombie disease whilst the government lurks mysteriously (and brutally) in the background. What more could you ask for?
Watch it alone in the dark. You will be scared of what is lurking in the shadows.
Number four on the list (and the second non-English-language movie) is I Saw The Devil. Directed by Jee-woon Kim, it is the film that made me aware of the brilliant work that has come out of South Korea in the past few years.
This is easily the most difficult film to watch on the list. Indeed, after the first ten relentlessly brutal minutes I didn’t think I would be able to watch it all. But I persevered and it was well worth it. It is a brilliant film, but not for those with a weak stomach. At times it walks the line between horror and torture porn, with explicit violence being splashed across the screen and whilst it can sometimes be somewhat a bit much (and therefore a bit of a distraction), it is nonetheless a great film.
It tells the tale of a vicious serial killer who kills the pregnant girlfriend of a cop who then plays an increasingly violent game of cat and mouse with the killer, where he captures him, tortures him and lets him go only to hunt him down again.
It makes the list, not only for its unrelenting bleakness, but because it’s a tale about the thin divide between good and evil and how easily it possible to slip from one to the other and become the thing you hate the most.
It was difficult to decide on a fifth choice. I considered writing about a number of films, which I think deserve an honourable mention.
The Cube is a tense, sci-fi horror about people who wake up trapped in a series of booby-trapped cubes and is a great film.
Julia’s Eyes is worth a mention for touching on my fear of blindness, whilst she investigates the mysterious death of her twin sister.
Despite not being a fan of David Lynch, I nearly included Eraserhead, which whilst it bored me to tears, left a lasting imprint in my memory with its desolate scenes and horror-like depictions of married bourgeois life.
I’m also going to include Death Wish 3, which I saw at far too young an age. Death, drugs and extreme violence which really stayed with me, particularly the super-violent booby traps. A proper scar from youth.
But the film which makes the list is in fact, not a horror film and to be honest it doesn’t really scare me. But at the time I did find it deeply disturbing and to this day think that one particular moment was a bit much for the rating, which was Universal. Yes, the final film is for children.
It is The Neverending Story.
I’ve never been a fan of fantasy and always found the genre as a whole somewhat unsettling, but there is one particular scene that really scarred my psyche, probably more than any of the violent films that were a staple of my formative years. I remember little of the plot, though it involves a young boy going on some kind of adventure through a magical world for some reason, with his best friend who happens to be a horse.
The particular scene which added this film to the list is one where the horse get trapped in the Swamp of Sadness and just stands there, sinking deeper into the swamp waiting to die as the young boy watches on helplessly as his best friend essentially commits suicide in front of his eyes. I state again, this is a children’s film.
This is why it is properly disturbing and that is why it makes the list. Perhaps if I re-watched it, it wouldn’t seem so bad and it was just my youth and hazy memory that makes it seem so terrible, but I have no intention of checking that out, so it will always be a disturbing childhood memory and one of the ways cinema has scarred me for life.
And on that happy note, I leave you to watch the ultimate film for Halloween (or any other occasion, for that matter), Ghostbusters!