Festivals

Film4 Frightfest – Day 1: ‘Curse of Chucky’ marks an enjoyably arch return for the killer doll

The-Dead-2

The Dead 2: India
Written by Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Directed by Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
United Kingdom, 2013

“You’re all adorable,” said Bobcat Goldthwait. The self-professed “dude from Police Academy” was on hand to give
the introductory speech to this year’s 14th annual Film4 Frightfest, and he couldn’t help but keep informing the audience how “adorable” they all were. They sure weren’t frightening; not many had deigned to play dress-up despite dutiful encouragement, aside from one individual who stood out by virtue of his Headless Horseman outfit. How he managed to watch and enjoy the films through the fabric of his fake neck is anyone’s guess but, with his exception, everybody else was simply adorable.

Goldthwait proclaimed all of cinema to be a collection of horror movies, each dealing with life, death, and rebirth in some capacity. He then pondered whether the same criteria applied to Grown Ups 2. “That’s probably the scariest film I can think of. Sorry, Empire. I know you’re screening it right now. That must be the smell…” The evening’s Curse of Chucky screening was the full, uncut version, as opposed to an inexplicably censored cut screened for the benefit of the Fantasia Fest audience. Goldthwait signed off his opening by decrying this sort of protection from the dark side of cinema. “We’re not babies,” he said. “We want to see the good stuff.”

It’s a credo that opening film The Dead 2: India truly takes to heart. The “good stuff” here equates to the zombie horde, roaming around the continent with an unexplainable thirst for blood and brains. That’s as much as we’re given; the zombies exist in and of themselves, with no expository backstory to validate their spread. They are the catalyst for the character arc of Nicholas Burton (Joseph Millson), a US engineer whose girlfriend Ishani (Meenu Mishra) is both pregnant and under siege – two situations that call for a great sense of responsibility on his behalf.

The personal lessons are sketched out through undercooked allegories involving an orphan boy companion and Ishani’s struggles with her overly domineering father. The setting of India is an interesting choice for Nicholas’ adult awakening, in that it contrasts fatherless children against the somewhat luxurious whims of the West and its cowardice toward social responsibility. Lightly skimmed as it may be, Nicholas’ plight takes precedence over the larger conflict; zombies sway to and fro like cacti in the desert, mere props and targets obstructing the hero’s path. There’s something heavily dubious about the image of a white man casually gunning down dozens of brown people in the Indian slums. Stranger still is a heavily symbolic scene in which a lucky Nicholas soars freely through the sky in a paraglider, while dying men and women reach out in agony beneath him.

There are a number of other vehicles seized for their vantage points, whereby interior and exterior shots showcase rural India in all its beauty and ruin. Because most of these shots are captured on the move, there isn’t much priority placed on actually savouring the landscape and conjuring a mood, though one gets the sense that this sort of effect is being strived for in places, and scarcely achieved. Director brothers Howard and Jon Ford admitted to not having seen the final cut, which does explain a few peculiar editing inserts.

The photography is overall in service to the film’s unwavering kinetic momentum. Nicholas is on a personal journey, but he’s also on a physical one, aided by a pistol, fast legs, motorbikes, and cars – whichever comes first, and whichever gives up on him the least. One can’t shake the feeling that this is essentially a live-action adaptation ofUncharted, the successful videogame franchise by Naughty Dog. The man in the t-shirt needs to get somewhere, fast. Gripping stuff, naturally, though one suspects the audience are used to seeing such instances on the London Undergound. Zombies, too.

Curse-of-Chucky

Curse of Chucky
Written by Don Mancini
Directed by Don Mancini
USA, 2013

Certainly more qualified to fall under the “good stuff” category is Curse of Chucky, the sixth film to star the iconic killer doll first made famous in 1988’s Child’s Play. Fans were each given a Chucky mask to wear in order to facilitate the least necessary photo-op in history, before director and creator Don Mancini introduced the film accompanied by lead actress Fiona Dourif – daughter of Brad Dourif, voice of Chucky – and, of course, the doll itself.

Taking place some years after Child’s Play 3 – thereby omitting Bride and Seed from the canon – Curse of Chucky finds wheelchair-bound Nica (Dourif) receiving a strange package in the post, at which point her mother passes in gruesome, mysterious circumstances. The suspicious death brings round Nica’s sister, her husband, au pair, and daughter, along with the town’s vicar, to plead with the lonely Nica into selling the family house. As ever, Chucky is watching and waiting, biding his time…

It’s a great shame that Curse of Chucky is headed straight-to-DVD, as it may be the most enjoyable film in the franchise so far. The house in which Nica resides never has its horrors exaggerated; Mancini utilises strong lighting–albeit an over-reliance on the flash of lightning–and a good measure of fluid camera movement to build an aura of menace, dually foreboding and comical, as is par for the course with the series.

Supernatural horrors of this age are almost always fixated on a menace inside the house, not seen or heard until the last moment; until that climactic moment, that presence is an invisible trickster turning the inhabitants’ environment against them. With Chucky, the elephant in the room is right there from the start, with the comedy factor arising from each characters’ complete obliviousness to the fact. With this film especially, it seems as if the doll and the camera are working in tandem to make these people’s lives a living hell in the worst sense. Try to suppress a smile at witnessing Chucky’s non-reaction shot as Nica takes to vegetables with a sharp knife. In arguably the film’s tensest sequence, we’re privy to the doll’s hand tipping rat poison into a random bowl of soup. The camera adopts a bird’s eye position as the plates are served up to the table, which then rotates underneath as if to play a magic trick on the audience. From there, we’re left with an amusingly awkward mealtime wherein the wait for one of these fools to keel over and die becomes agonisingly enjoyable.

It’s this stylish approach and nearly Home Alone-level of in-house torture that keepsCurse of Chucky comfortably on a gleeful spree of vicious gore mixed with petty familial conflict. So it’s disappointing that Mancini felt it necessary for the film to tie its ends definitively with prior installments. As the killings ramp up, so do the revelations. Plot takes over from aesthetic pleasure and the answers all too cleverly fall into place. Longtime fans of the series will be satisfied that the knots of Chucky’s mythology have been helpfully untangled, though the last act may prove a letdown for anyone grateful that events weren’t taken too seriously in the first two-thirds. Still, let’s hear it for the one film in 2013 whose credit sting isn’t an anticipation of the next episode. It’s quite the opposite, but you’ll have to wait and see for yourselves.

Read my original entry at PopOptiq/Sound on Sight

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